FirstNet's Fitzgerald provides update on Special Review Committee

Tammy Parker, FierceBroadbandWirelessA plethora of public news about new hirings, RFIs, spectrum lease agreements and more has rolled out of the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) of late, making its Special Review Committee's activities seemingly retreat to the status of background activity. However, the committee is quite active, and the concerns being addressed remain front and center.

In May, FirstNet's board approved the creation of the review committee to investigate whether the board has complied with federal rules that apply to its hiring, sourcing and meeting practices in its efforts to set up the LTE-based National Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN). The review committee was proposed at an April 23 meeting by board member Paul Fitzgerald, sheriff of Story County, Iowa, who alleged a number of improprieties and questionable backroom dealings at FirstNet. His request for a review committee was tabled at that meeting.

On July 31, Fitzgerald issued a "to whom it may concern" letter to say he has been working with the committee "to assure that all the concerns I raised in my motion are properly addressed."

The sheriff noted that in mid-July, he presented to laywers acting as counsel to the review committee a lengthy document as well as supporting evidence related to each of the points he raised on April 23. And Fitzgerald apparently tried to ensure things will not get glossed over at the committee level, as he also presented the same document and evidence to Todd Zinser, who is inspector general of the Department of Commerce, and his staff.

A spokesman for the Office of Inspector General would neither confirm nor deny to FierceBroadbandWireless whether the OIG might also be looking into FirstNet's activities. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which oversees FirstNet, is part of the Commerce Department.

Though Fitzgerald declined to share in his public letter any additional comments on his presentation, he reiterated that he hopes this review process will result in FirstNet making "certain reforms to improve our processes, increase our transparency, meaningfully include public safety, and move forward to success."

It is crucial that the special review committee act independently to honestly assess any conflicts of interests or perceived conflicts of interest that could taint FirstNet and its mission to improve communications for first responders. But a few observers find it unsettling that the committee is dominated by FirstNet insiders and headed by Wellington Webb, a FirstNet board member.

For example, former FEMA Director R. David Paulison said in a recent interview with Politico that he believed FirstNet's investigation into Fitzgerald's assertions should have been handled by outsiders, such as the inspector general, to avoid the further "perception" of conflict of interest.

When it was formed in May, the temporary committee was charged with reporting results of its investigation to the full FirstNet board "as soon as practical," at which point it would disband. FirstNet Chairman Sam Ginn has said he intends to make results of the committee's review public.

FierceBroadbandWireless reached out to FirstNet to see if it has any information to share regarding the review committee's progress. "The FirstNet Special Review Committee is continuing its review of the issues raised by Sherriff Fitzgerald. We can't comment further," said a FirstNet spokeswoman.--Tammy

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