FirstNet begins new era with revamped board
It’s hard to believe that it was less than two years ago that the FirstNet board convened in its first public meeting, in which Chairman Sam Ginn expressed his desire for an aggressive rollout plan and board member Craig Farrill shocked the public-safety industry by outlining a network design for the massive project.
It’s also hard to believe that it was a year ago when General Manager Bill D’Agostino—hired in April 2013 after an extensive search led by a committee headed by board member Charles Dowd—got board approval for a budget designed to build a staff for the fledgling organization. In addition, a committee headed by board member Wellington Webb was just a few weeks from announcing that its investigation into board member Paul Fitzgerald’s allegations that the board was not open and transparent resulted in a finding that there was no evidence to support the claims.
What’s even harder to believe is that the FirstNet board will meet today and tomorrow, and none of the six people mentioned above will be participating. Indeed, the board includes five new members in the 12 appointed slots, there is no approved network design, no approved business model and FirstNet has not had a general manger for several months.
Is this a doom-and-gloom scenario for FirstNet? It might have been if the same board turnover had occurred a year ago, when board members were forced to pull double duty and act as staff. But it doesn’t have to be today, largely because most key positions in the organization are filled by qualified individuals, so progress still can be made during a board transition.
Some would argue that the FirstNet board can benefit from the fresh perspectives that new board members can bring to the table, and that may be the case. But these fresh perspectives also need to be informed perspectives, so Chairwoman Sue Swenson, Acting General Manager TJ Kennedy and other FirstNet officials will have to work hard to educate the new board members, because unfortunately there isn’t time for a leisurely learning curve.
This new board needs to be very active during the next several months in several key areas, including finding a general manager and guiding the staff as it prepares the much-anticipated draft request for proposal (RFP) for the project.
In addition, all FirstNet officials—board members and staff—need to listen closely to the input provided by state representatives during initial state-consultation meetings. FirstNet conducted its first state consultation with the state of Maryland at the end of the July. No other state or territory has had a consultation since, but six states are scheduled to host consultations during the next two month, according to a FirstNet spokesman.
While many baseline discussions, brainstorming and general data collection can occur during early consultations, it will be difficult to have meaningful talks on meatier subjects such as network coverage and business models until FirstNet makes some key policy decisions. So, we welcome the new FirstNet board members to their challenging task, wish them luck and hope they are ready to hit to the ground running, because there is a lot of work to be done on this vital mission.