FirstNet Board Approves Resolutions as Officials Focus on Operational Phase

June 30, 2016–The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) board today adopted resolutions approving a new lease for FirstNet’s technical headquarters in Boulder, Colo., and an updated charter for the Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC), as officials continued to stress the importance of the organization’s transitioning from a planning phase to an operational phase after it awards a contract to a partner. The resolution for the Boulder lease approves renewing the current lease for a five-year term followed by five one-year options. Officials said the terms are very favorable, especially considering the increase in rents in the Boulder area.

The resolution concerning the PSAC charter deals with, among other things, increasing the membership to include representatives of the Justice and Homeland Security departments. The PSAC plans to launch a federal working group that will include representatives from other federal agencies as well.

In opening today’s meeting in Chicago, board Chairwoman Sue Swenson said that FirstNet is “on track, on budget, on schedule,” adding that three key areas it is focusing on this year (1) are evaluating bids it received in response to its request for proposals (RFP); (2) continuing outreach, including enhancing activities to make sure that “key decision-makers .. will make an informed decision and have the facts” when deciding whether states should opt out of having FirstNet build their radio access networks (RANs); and (3) “getting the FirstNet organization ready for the transition from planning to executiMs. Swenson stressed, “We’re going to be moving into an operational mode, and so we really need to be thinking about how the organization needs to be prepared for that. So we’re working on that now so that on Day 1 after the award, we can hit the ground running.”

Officials today also discussed the decision to create a Chief Customer Office and Network Program Office as part of organizational changes to prepare for the operational phase. FirstNet Chief Executive Officer Mike Poth announced that Stephen Fletcher will head the Network Program Office. Mr. Fletcher has been on detail from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration for just more than a year. At FirstNet, he has been deputy executive director-administration. At NTIA, he was associate administrator-Office of Public Safety Communications. Before joining NTIA in 2012, he was chief information officer for the state of Utah and the U.S. Department of Education (TRDaily, Nov. 13, 2012).

As officials announced yesterday, the new chief customer officer will be Rich Reed, who is currently FirstNet’s director-state plans.

Mr. Poth told the board that FirstNet President TJ Kennedy and Chief Financial Officer Kim Farington will be hard at work on developing a new post-award structure for FirstNet. Ms. Swenson stressed the importance of ensuring that the “culture” is right. Mr. Poth alluded to the fact that FirstNet wants to award a contract by Nov. 1, but he also said that the date is not set in stone. “Lots of things can go right. Lots of things can get twisted. We’re never going to allow it to go wrong, though,” he said.

“We’re now targeting the November award, but we will not award in November if it is not in the best interest of public safety, in the best interest of our partners, in the best interest for FirstNet and the government,” he said. “Although we think … we have a good, clean line of sight to be able to do that, we’re not going to just rush to judgment.”

Officials discussed a focus on reaching out to first responders in major metro areas this year as well as meeting with governors and their staffs while continuing to ensure that rural areas will be covered when the network is deployed. “We agree that rural’s very important,” Mr. Reed said, while noting the focus on meetings in major metro areas.

 Board member Ed Horowitz said such urban outreach can help lead to consultation with public safety officials in nearby suburban and rural areas.

“We need to make sure that we get out to the right people vs. kind of a broad brush,” Ms. Swenson said. “It’s a much more targeted, laser-focused approach, I think, as we enter into the final laps here before the award.”

Board Vice Chairman Jeff Johnson stressed that even after the nationwide public safety broadband network is built, FirstNet will “be reactive and responsive to the needs of the states.” He also emphasized that FirstNet’s “focus on rural America … is a value we hold that we will not abandon.”

At a hearing last week, several senators from rural states expressed concern about whether the nationwide network will reach all public safety personnel in their states (TRDaily, June 21).

Also at the hearing, an official from the National Governors Association complained that the “tone” that FirstNet has taken with states indicates it does not view them as real partners, but rather as customers.

Also during today’s meeting, PSAC Chair Harlin McEwen said that the board will get reports in early August on the work of the PSAC’s local control and identity, credential, and access management (ICAM) task teams.  And Finance Committee Chairman Jim Douglas said that FirstNet’s accounts payable no longer have to be reviewed by NTIA.

Meanwhile, Chicago and Illinois public safety officials addressed the board during today’s meeting. Donald Kauerauf, chief of the Bureau of Preparedness and Grants Administration in the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and chairman of the Illinois Terrorism Task Force, stressed the importance of a “solid government structure” to implement FirstNet. That framework must “link government structures” and “prevent duplication,” he added.

“It’s going to be difficult because so many of our government structures are formulated through law,” he said. He noted that the state is one of five selected as part of the NGA’s policy academy on emergency communications interoperability (TRDaily, April 7). Alicia Tate-Nadeau, executive director of the Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications, stressed the importance of the FirstNet system providing resiliency to first responders.

The board plans to hold a conference call on Aug. 26, followed by committee and board meetings on Sept. 13-14 in Reston, Va., and Dec. 13-14 in Sacramento, Calif. – Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

Courtesy TRDaily