FirstNet Officials Reiterate Readiness Once Court Rules on Bid Challenge

March 14, 2017–First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) board members and management reiterated today that the organization is ready to move ahead with a contract award or other action directed by a court once the court rules on a bid challenge, a decision that FirstNet’s chief lawyer said could come within days. FirstNet is in a holding pattern regarding the awarding of the contract to deploy a nationwide public safety broadband network. It had hoped to announce that award by Nov. 1, 2016, but the award has been delayed in the wake of a lawsuit filed by Rivada Mercury LLC, a consortium that contends it was illegally disqualified from the procurement’s “competitive range” (TRDaily, Dec. 2, 2016). An oral argument in the case was held earlier this month (TRDaily, March 3).

FirstNet has been working closely with its procurement contract office at the Department of Interior to be ready “based on whatever decision the court issues, hopefully in the next several days,” Jason Karp, FirstNet’s chief counsel, said during a joint meeting today of the board and its committees, held via teleconference and webinar. “Once the decision is issued, we will respect that court’s decision, and we will take whatever actions are necessary to comply with the direction that the court gives.”

During today’s meeting, FirstNet officials stressed that they have made good use of the time before the contract is awarded, including by continuing to consult with states and by bolstering FirstNet’s plans for immediately moving ahead with an award and initial post-award activities, if that is permitted. “Both management and the board are continuing to act with urgency on all fronts,” board Chairwoman Sue Swenson said. “I think we’re more ready than ever.”

Chief Customer Officer Rich Reed said that FirstNet is continuing with a “very robust consultation and outreach” effort, including speaking at recent gatherings of police chiefs, sheriffs, and emergency medical technicians. It also will have a large presence at this month’s IWCE conference in Las Vegas, he noted. He said FirstNet has a game plan for getting states ready for their draft plans, and he said it plans to engage soon after a contract award is announced with the FirstNet Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC) and state single points of contact (SPOCs) in individual calls as well as a webinar. FirstNet also plans to hold joint kickoff meetings with its partner and wants to integrate the two organizations’ “visions … into one,” Mr. Reed said.

Ms. Swenson said she is impressed with the efforts to get states ready for the plans, saying, “I think this shows our readiness.” FirstNet President TJ Kennedy also emphasized that FirstNet is prepared to work with its partner, saying that the first four task orders will be for a state plan portal, the delivery of 56 state plans, the core network design, and a plan to build RANs in states.

The board members met in closed session during the meeting to discuss “the state of the acquisition and logical next steps,” FirstNet Chief Executive Officer Mike Poth said. However, the board did not vote on a resolution delegating to management approval to complete the acquisition. There was speculation that the resolution had been on the agenda in the event the court’s decision in the Rivada Mercury challenge had come out by today’s meeting. “The Board is anticipating the decision of the court and is poised to act as soon as the court’s decision is available,” a FirstNet spokesperson said after today’s meeting.

Mr. Poth also said that FirstNet representatives met with new Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on his second day on the job to brief him on the authority’s activities. “The secretary of Commerce and this entire administration is very excited about FirstNet and has committed to do everything they can to continue to ensure its success, so that was very refreshing,” Mr. Poth said. He also said that Mr. Ross told Commerce employees in remarks the day he started that FirstNet was one of his top three priorities.

Also today, the board approved a resolution to extend the tenure of PSAC Chair Harlin McEwen, if necessary, past the existing March 31 date until FirstNet awards and announces a contract to a partner. “We want to apologize in advance for delaying your retirement,” Ms. Swenson told Mr. McEwen.  She added of the award, “We hope it’s not too much longer before that happens.”

Mr. McEwen thanked the board for their action and said it has been a privilege to chair the PSAC since its establishment after FirstNet was stood up in 2012. “This is one of those times when I’m glad to serve just a little longer and will hope it doesn’t mean very much longer,” he said with a laugh.

In his update to the board, Mr. McEwen noted that the PSAC’s adoption task team is continuing its work on a document on preparing agency personnel for FirstNet services and the benefits of those services. “We expect to have the adoption task team report at the next in-person PSAC meeting scheduled for June 15 in San Antonio,” he said. He also said there have been delays in finding members for a PSAC federal working group due to the Trump administration transition. “It’s been difficult to get the names of the people who are going to represent these federal agencies,” he said. ‘It’s not because of a lack of interest.”

During a technology presentation, board members and FirstNet Chief Technology Officer Jeff Bratcher said they were pleased with the number of applications that the Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) program received for up to $30 million in funds from PSCR’s Public Safety Innovation Accelerator Program to advance research, development, and testing of key broadband technologies useful to public safety agencies (TRDaily, March 3).

The PSCR originally said it received 175 applications. “The initial count was prior to any administrative review,” Dereck Orr, chief of the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Public Safety Communications Research Division, told TRDaily today, adding that he has “just gotten final confirmation from the Grants Office that after the 175 packages were reviewed for minimum qualifications and duplications, 162 packages are being distributed for technical review.” “I think their expectations were far exceeded,” Mr. Bratcher said at today’s FirstNet meeting.

FirstNet Chief Financial Officer Kim Farington provided an update on the authority’s finances. As of Jan. 31, she said that 24%, or $20.6 million, of FirstNet’s fiscal year 2017 obligations budget had been spent, while 21%, or $25.2 million, of its expenses budget had been spent. She also said that for the fourth consecutive year, FirstNet received a “clean,” or unmodified, audit opinion. And she said that a previously reported significant deficiency related to its financial services provider’s IT and configuration management had been closed, as had a management-level finding on the lack of documented policies and procedures.

Board members said the results were a reflection of FirstNet’s financial maturity. “We’ve come from nowhere to somewhere pretty fast,” Ms. Swenson said. “We’ve been able to put the discipline in place to get this clean audit.” Also today, Ms. Swenson noted the new board designees from the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Homeland Security.

OMB’s designee is Kathy Kraninger, who is associate director-general government at the White House agency. She was previously clerk of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s homeland security subcommittee and before that worked in other Hill positions. David Hess is chief of staff at DHS’ National Protection and Programs Directorate and is performing the duties of undersecretary-NPPD during the executive branch transition. – Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

Courtesy TRDaily