IG Audit Calls for Strengthened Oversight of FirstNet Contracts

The report found inadequate practices for monitoring contracts and financial disclosures of FirstNet board members.

If you follow the activities of the First Responder Network Authority, you can expect to see and hear more about the independent entity from Capitol Hill come 2015.

House Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden has vowed to hold additional hearings early next year, following a recent inspector general’s audit report about inadequate processes for ensuring FirstNet board members were properly filing their financial disclosures and identifying potential conflicts of interests. FirstNet contracts were awarded without competition or sufficient hiring oversight, the report noted.

The report highlights several recommendations, including the need for more robust guidance for contracting staff assigned to FirstNet and more routine communication between the chair of FirstNet and the Office of General Counsel about potential conflicts of interest for board members and staff.

The audit was launched after a FirstNet board member raised ethics and procurement concerns in April 2013.

In response to the report, FirstNet Chair Sue Swenson acknowledged, “some administrative missteps were made in the early days.” Swanson said steps were taken to address those issues, and she is “confident that the FirstNet of today is on the right path forward for these and many other reasons.”

Rep. Walden wants proof those changes have been and continue to be instituted.

“Questions of ethics threaten the legitimacy of FirstNet’s efforts and ultimately undermine its important mission to build a nationwide public safety broadband network,” Waldron said following the report’s release. “We will continue our thoughtful oversight and hold additional hearings early next year and expect to see significant progress in implementing the Inspector General’s recommendations.”

Sen. John Rockefeller, who wrote the legislation that created FirstNet, said this about the report: “The Commerce Inspector General’s report serves as a note of caution to everyone involved in FirstNet — they must be diligent about following the rules. FirstNet is a rare hybrid with a unique responsibility. It has to carefully balance the need for both effective government oversight and the autonomy necessary to launch a first-of-its-kind nationwide wireless broadband network for first responders.”

Dec 23 2014