The First Responder Network Authority’s Finance Committee has proposed a fiscal year 2018 budget that would represent a 13% reduction, enabled by streamlined processes, improved efficiency, and a shift away from the use of contractors. The budget proposal was one of several issues discussed today at FirstNet’s combined committee meetings in Boulder, Colo., in advance of a board meeting tomorrow.
In opening remarks at today’s meeting, FirstNet Chairwoman Susan Swenson noted the slate of recent natural disasters in the U.S. from the hurricane damage and flooding suffered in Texas and Florida and wildfires in Oregon. The recent spate of disasters “reinforces that we need to be urgent about what we’re going,” she said. “I think we feel pretty good about where we are, but we need to press forward … And make sure this technology gets deployed as quickly as possible.”
The Finance Committee proposed a $73.5 million budget for fiscal year 2018, representing a 13% decrease from its $84.6 million FY17 budget. The reduction is based on streamlined processes in a post-award environment, a focus on improving resource optimization, and reduced reliance on contractors, said Chief Financial Officer Kim Farington. “We’re very proud of this process because we started with a zero-based budget approach and had every business unit provide the status of their business today and how they’re using their dollars,” Ms. Farington said. “Every requested item in the fiscal year 2018 budget matches up with our strategic goals.”
Priorities for FY18 include initiating RAN buildout for opt-in states, testing current and future network features and capabilities, evolving and delivering applications for stakeholders, completing the FirstNet core, updating services and security of that core, and initiating Band 14 network and FirstNet field operations, Ms. Farington said.
“There are a lot of big, critical things planned for fiscal year 2018, but we think we can do those things with the budget request we’re presenting today,” she said.
During the Technology Committee presentation, Jeff Bratcher, chief technology officer at FirstNet, detailed the work it has completed as well as its future plans. “We’ve got to think bigger than just voice interoperability,” he said. “That’s been the touchpoint for public safety for years, but now we’re moving beyond that.”
One area of focus is on applications and standards, Mr. Bratcher said. Technical aspects of the applications standards strategy involve driving adoption of existing standards or creating new ones, driving economies of scale, improving user experience, and minimizing operability changes, he said. Marketing plans include creating strategies to encourage development and use of applications that employ standards and lowering barriers to entry for new public safety app developers, he said. The strategy also calls for advocating changes to grant programs to encourage selection of apps that employ standards, he added.
Emerging application technologies include virtual assistants, virtual reality, and augmented reality, Mr. Bratcher said. “These are huge areas of development,” he said. “We see a huge benefit for public safety” in areas such as training.
Board members suggested that it may be necessary to add another pillar to the applications standards strategy to address the importance of data management due to the complex legal and regulatory issues surrounding data sharing. —Brian Hammond