With IG report in rearview mirror, it’s time to let FirstNet pursue its plans
What is in this article?
Now that the IG report is out, what should be done about it? Not surprisingly, some members of Congress want to conduct a hearing on Capitol Hill to get more information—and that’s entirely appropriate. It is important for lawmakers—and the general public—to have an opportunity to understand what happened, and why, so that steps can be taken to ensure that clear policies exist for FirstNet and other such entities in the future.
Should Congress take punitive action against FirstNet, based on the findings in the IG report? Absolutely not, in my opinion.
By all accounts, it seems that the rules for FirstNet were not clear during the period audited in the IG report. And, in the early days of FirstNet, the rules were muddied even more by the fact that FirstNet board members essentially were working as employees until full-time staff could be hired. Even more, NTIA and the U.S. Department of Commerce contest the IG report’s findings regarding the contracting issues.
Even if the contracting and financial-disclosure procedures were not followed correctly, my understanding is that most, if not all, of those problems have been addressed. The FirstNet board certainly goes out of its way today to emphasize conflict-of-interest rules before every meeting of a committee or the general board.
More important, it seems that FirstNet has found a niche in how to operate within the federal government, largely following the rules that apply to government agencies. Conceptually, many (including some members of Congress) may prefer that FirstNet be allowed to operate with more independence, but what is needed more right now is a clear path to get things done, so every action does not involve a legal debate.
To that end, a FirstNet roadmap for building a nationwide public-safety broadband network is in place, and the timelines are being met, so far. Congress needs to let FirstNet proceed on its current course, not suspend, penalize or otherwise hamstring it based on an IG report of past transgressions during a time when the rules applying to FirstNet were not clear—and based on the actions of people who likely are not with FirstNet today.
Frankly, the release of the IG report should represent the clearing of a cloud that has been lingering over FirstNet since board member Paul Fitzgerald made his allegations against board members in April 2013. Now, it’s time to let FirstNet proceed and pursue its critical mission of providing broadband communications to all U.S. first responders.