FirstNet is not a master of its own fate
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FirstNet is not a master of its own fate
By Andrew M. Seybold
As has been reported ad nauseam in the press, FirstNet board member Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald in April 2013 introduced a resolution claiming the FirstNet board had violated a number of federal rules and regulations. The resolution resulted in a FirstNet board of directors inquiry, a court battle between Sheriff Fitzgerald’s county and the Feds about who owns the e-mails that might shed some light on exactly what transpired before the charges were leveled, and a still-ongoing investigation by the U.S. Department of Commerce Inspector General (IG), the findings of which have not been made public.
FirstNet—and the good, honest people FirstNet lost because of these accusations—have been trying to get on with life and the task of implementing the FirstNet network. Recently, however, yet another article was published repeating the same charges, only this time citing specifics I don't believe the writer could have no way of knowing and that really do not matter until the IG report is made public. I read this story and realized that one of my old bosses was proven correct once again when he told me that paper does not refuse ink.
Rather than rehash the article and comment from my perspective, including my time “inside” FirstNet, I would rather spend my time pointing out a few larger issues that have been overlooked, as well as the typical—and predictable—overreaction to the resolution by some within the federal government who were actually more responsible for the issues than anyone on the FirstNet board or who worked for FirstNet in any capacity.
First of all, it is not out of the norm when a new team is put together to undertake a project—especially one as difficult as FirstNet is undertaking—that those leading the team have a preference as to whom they want on the team. They usually want people they have confidence in and perhaps worked with before, so they know firsthand their skill sets and skill levels. It happens all of the time in business, professional sports, the military, and even within the public-safety community. A new person is chosen to lead the organization and most often is given leeway to organize and staff key positions with people they respect and trust.
FirstNet was a startup. Even worse, it was a startup within the federal government without a management team or employees, only a board of directors. Most startups begin with a small group of founders, a CEO, and some of the CEO’s colleagues from previous ventures coming together and working on a new concept. Later on, advisors are added, a skeleton of a board is formed, and eventually a formal board is formed and members are added.
In the case of FirstNet, the board was formed and came into being without a management team, employees, bank account, the ability to sign a contract or even access to a checkbook of any kind. This group of very dedicated people came together not because of the money they were offered but because of the compelling need for a new public-safety wireless network. Most of them were retired and doing very well, thank you.
The public-safety members were dedicated to FirstNet, having been part of the group that convinced Congress and the executive branch to support public safety in its quest for a new nationwide network. None of them were motivated by the money the government was prepared to pay them, nor the fact that the federal way of handing travel and expenses was to treat professional board members like entry-level employees. Those who accepted the FirstNet board positions did so because they believed in the mission. FirstNet board members responded to a call for assistance; a challenge to be part of something public safety desperately needs and which they felt they could help make happen.
Recognizing its predicament of having no one to run “the company”—as Chairman Sam Ginn often called FirstNet—or perform work between board meetings, the FirstNet board started looking at options to bring together a team to get the project off the ground.