FirstNet’s Johnson outlines legal issues surrounding PSAC
FirstNet officials want to share all network-related information they have with members of the Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC), but legal issues are preventing this from happening at the moment, according to FirstNet board member Jeff Johnson.
As part of a controversial presentation during the FirstNet board meeting in April, FirstNet board member Paul Fitzgerald said that the PSAC has been “treated more like a necessary evil than a valuable source of public-safety advice,” and that there has been more than one “roadblock … put down” to limit the ability of the PSAC to be involved in a “meaningful way.”
Johnson said that the legal limitations can be traced to the fact that the PSAC consists of members of SAFECOM, a group that operates within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and consists largely of local-government representatives.
“The significance to that is, when you represent local government, by fact you don’t represent the federal government or FirstNet,” Johnson said during an interview with Urgent Communications. “So, that means that nondisclosure agreements that we may make with people that are trying to help us see the future and people who are trying to help us see the reality of manufacturing devices at a certain pace with a certain capability … only extend to FirstNet, the federal government and our agents, not to representatives of local governments.”
As a result, FirstNet board members cannot share information learned via nondisclosure agreements and other confidential sources with the PSAC members at the moment. This emerged as a source of frustration for all involved during a recent meeting between PSAC executive board members and the FirstNet engineering team that otherwise was very productive, Johnson said.
“There were elements that we couldn’t disclose to them, because of the elements that we have in front of us,” he said. “Fortunately, our legal team is trying to help us find a path through that, but some of this takes time, and it takes patience.”
FirstNet hopes to find a way to overcome this legal obstacle, Johnson said.
“This is the most important thing: We have been working for no less than 3 or 4 months trying to find a way where we can create access to them to see this information,” he said. “It’s in FirstNet’s best interest; it’s in the PSAC’s best interest; and, most importantly, it’s in the best interest of the public-safety community that they have visibility into this.”
When asked whether changes in the PSAC would have to be made if no legal solution to address the situation can be found, Johnson declined to comment on such speculation.
“I don’t want to go down this path of ‘What if we don’t?’” Johnson said. “I’m optimistic that we’re going to find a legal path to expose to at least some of the PSAP leadership the critical and important parts. But some of these things take time, and the legal process doesn’t move very quick sometimes. It’s challenging, but it’s important.”
In the meantime, FirstNet and the PSAC will work to communicate with each other as much as the law allows, Johnson said.
“We’re handling it by sharing everything we can legally share with the PSAC and seeking their counsel—that’s the best we can do today,” he said. “The PSAC wants it differently; FirstNet and our chairman want it differently, but we’ve got to work through the process.
“Here’s what isn’t tolerable for either of us. We cannot contaminate the outcome by breaching a process or something that is clearly evident in the statute. We just can’t go there—it’s not appropriate, and we don’t want to contaminate the outcome.”