Excerpted from TRDaily, September 25, 2013, by Paul Kirby
The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) should take a number of steps to improve its transparency, according to Bill Schrier, the chairman of the Washington State Interoperability Executive Committee who has worked extensively with jurisdictions interested in building early public safety broadband networks.
In an opinion piece shared with TRDaily, Mr. Schrier said that FirstNet should announce all meetings of the board, even the briefings held the day before open board meetings, and should publicly release the matters discussed. He also said that FirstNet should make sure its open meetings are held in rooms large enough to accommodate the public, not just reporters, and allow for public comment, like city councils do.
FirstNet also should publish a directory of its staff that includes their contact information and responsibilities, and it should announce the hiring of new contractors, he said.
“Especially at the beginning, but even now, FirstNet contractor hires appeared to be all people almost exclusively with private company cellular technology expertise. Some of the first hires had little or no experience with LTE,” Mr. Schrier said. “It was (and still is) a mystery as to how they were hired, by what mechanism, and what their connection or expertise/background is. The lack of transparency here certainly contributes to the feeling that the effort is being managed or railroaded in a certain direction.”
Mr. Schrier also said FirstNet should allow its Public Safety Advisory Committee “to be much more open and public with what it is doing, including staffing it to allow it to do more work and have meetings which are more open.”
He also suggested FirstNet establish other advisory committees, including for vendors, states, and secondary responders such as utilities and transit officials.
Mr. Schrier also urged FirstNet to keep updated on its web site a calendar of events of FirstNet-related activities. He said the current list of speaking engagements isn’t always up-to-date.
In his piece, Mr. Schrier stressed that he has “no special expertise or thoughts regarding Sheriff [Paul] Fitzgerald’s concerns as expressed in his April, 2013, resolution, or the report of the special review committee announced on September 23rd.”
The report found that FirstNet “conducted open and transparent decision making,” “did not withhold records from Board members,” and “continues to work on a network plan in compliance with statutory requirements” (TRDaily, Sept. 23).
In response to Mr. Schrier’s suggestions, a FirstNet spokeswoman said today, “FirstNet is committed to developing plans for this nationwide public safety broadband network in an open and transparent manner. As we ramp up our staff, we intend to expand our outreach and communication efforts. We look forward to the launch of our new website this fall to help keep interested stakeholders informed.”
The new web site is expected to be up in less than a month, FirstNet Deputy General Manager T.J. Kennedy said at this week’s board meeting.
Meanwhile, a public safety official weighed in on the report’s findings and the way that the complaints of Mr. Fitzgerald, who is a FirstNet board member and sheriff of Story County, Iowa, were reviewed.
“My first reaction is, the report would have been more credible if it was conducted by an independent reviewing authority rather than a Special Review Committee that necessarily had to interview its own members,” Ray Lehr, Maryland’s statewide interoperability coordinator, told TRDaily. “Still, the ultimate test is if Sheriff Fitzgerald feels the Board has corrected the flaws he identified.”
Mr. Lehr also cited the portion of the report that described then acting-General Manager Craig Farrill’s decision to withhold providing financial reports to the board while work proceeded on a new reporting format. “That doesn’t sound ‘transparent’ to me,” he said.
Bill Schrier, Former Chief Technology Officer of the City of Seattle, WA, has a personal blog athttp://schrier.wordpress.com/2013/09/25/is-firstnet-open-and-transparent/