Table of Contents:
- Ginn makes the right call by reaching out to DOC inspector general
- Trust is crucial
It's wise that FirstNet Chairman Sam Ginn's decided to have the U.S. Department of Commerce inspector general investigate Paul Fitzgerald's allegations of ethical misconduct. Public-safety officials won’t join this network if they don’t trust FirstNet—and they’re not going to trust FirstNet, if they think Fitzgerald’s allegations were swept under the rug by an internal investigation.
Last week, I wrote a FirstNet-oriented column in which I expressed some discomfort regarding the decision made by Chairman Sam Ginn to investigate in-house the transparency and conflict-of-interest allegations made by board member Paul Fitzgerald. I wrote that “nothing screams cover-up quite so loudly as an internal investigation” and further opined that it would have been better had an independent entity handled the investigation.
Three days after this column appeared, I was thrilled to read a story on our website that reported Ginn’s decision to enlist the aid of Todd Zinser, the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC), to take over the second part of the investigation, which deals with the procurement and conflict-of-interest allegations. (The first investigation, conducted internally, dismissed Fitzgerald’s contention that the FirstNet board had not acted with sufficient openness and transparency.)
Regardless what the Inspector General finds, this was a wise and prudent decision by Ginn. If Zinser finds thatacted inappropriately, it’s early enough in the game that corrective action can be taken and this unfortunate chapter can be closed without it causing irreparable harm; if he finds that nothing untoward has occurred, all the better. But the key takeaway is that the investigation now is being conducted externally. That is huge, from a big-picture perspective.
Here’s why. FirstNet has a lot to do. It has to come up with a network design that makes sense. It has to come up with a business model that is workable. It has to decide which vendors are going to be allowed to contribute to this network.
But most important of all, FirstNet has to convince public-safety stakeholders to join the network.
If FirstNet is unable to do this, it is not going to matter at all that this technologically advanced network will provide first responders with fantastic new capabilities that previously were the stuff of dreams. Indeed, if FirstNet can’t convince practitioners to join its network, this could well go down as the biggest white elephant in the nation’s history.
If the state and local public-safety officials don’t trust FirstNet, then the evangelical effort to convince stakeholders to join the network will become much more complicated and exceedingly difficult. That would be bad, because the outreach effort will be challenging, even in the best of circumstances—change is not something that comes easily to the public-safety sector.
Once trust is lost, it is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to recover. That’s why FirstNet needed to bend over backwards to be transparent in this investigation. Ginn deserves credit for immediately calling for a thorough investigation of Fitzgerald’s allegations. It would have been better to hand this over to Zinser from the outset, but doing so now is still a leap in the right direction. File it under the category of “better late than never.”