What GAO Found
The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) has conducted key efforts to establish the network, namely releasing the request for proposal (RFP) for the network and awarding the network contract to AT&T. As the contractor, AT&T will be responsible for the overall design, development, production, operation, and evolution of the network. Additionally, FirstNet consulted with state and local, federal, and tribal stakeholders. State officials GAO contacted were generally satisfied with FirstNet’s efforts to engage them. However, tribal stakeholders GAO contacted expressed concern that FirstNet has not fully engaged in effective communication with tribes.
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FirstNet engaged tribes through a variety of mechanisms, such as through state points of contact and a working group, but tribes noted that individuals with first-hand knowledge of tribes’ experiences are unable to represent tribal views directly among FirstNet’s key decision makers. Although FirstNet is required to consult with tribes through state points of contact, a key principle of effective tribal communication is to seek full understanding of tribal concerns and reach consensus where possible. By fully exploring and proposing actions to address tribal stakeholders’ concerns, FirstNet could help improve its relations with tribes and better meet stakeholders’ needs.
According to stakeholders GAO contacted, FirstNet faces various challenges to ensure the network’s reliability, security, and interoperability. For example, stakeholders raised concerns related to:
- providing coverage to rural areas, in buildings, or underground;
- ensuring the network’s overall resiliency and cybersecurity; and
- managing frameworks for user identity, credentialing of users, access management, and prioritization of users on the network.