Swenson Gives FirstNet Passing Grade for Past Year, Addresses Personnel Issues
Thursday, June 04, 2015 | Comments

The chairwoman of the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) gave her organization a passing grade in four areas during the past year, while highlighting focus areas for the next 12 months.

Instead of letter grades, Sue Swenson graded FirstNet pass or fail in execution, engagement, communication, collaboration — her “E2 C2” formula for success outlined a year ago shortly after assuming the chair position. At the 2015 Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) Broadband Stakeholder Meeting June 3, she said FirstNet passed in all four areas.

For execution, Swenson said FirstNet established and is on track with its strategic roadmap, including the release of its special notice and draft request for proposals (RFP) in April. The organization held more than 30 state consultations and released three public notices during the past year.

She gave the group a “pass plus” for engagement. She noted there is more two-way communication with the state single points of contact (SPOCs), Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC), state officials through the state consultation meetings and other events, first responders through stakeholder events and Congress than before her tenure.

She also said FirstNet gets passing grades for communication because of its website launched last year and social media outlets and for collaboration because of its many partnership with groups such as PSCR, other federal agencies, associations and other groups.

Swenson touted the same E2 C2 formula for the coming year. She said in the area of execution, developing the final RFP is the main goal. In addition, state chief information officers (CIOs) will be a focus point, along with state officials. In May, National Association of State CIOs (NASCIO) members said they wanted more information on FirstNet’s state plans and their development.

“The focus needs to be on the governors and their staffs,” Swenson said in an interview after the keynote. “We need to give them the information they need to make a decision. You will see us focus on that.”

Swenson said that the area of engagement will change in the coming year during the procurement because FirstNet must follow federal procurement strategy. “It’s going to change the way we interact,” she said. “We can’t talk to vendors about anything. I think we’ve worked hard to create relationships and transparency, so I want vendors to know they’ll see a change. It’s going to be very different for me and my colleagues from the private sector. We’re at a crossroads between what Congress intended and what federal rules allow. … It’s unfortunate because it’s going to make the project a lot more challenging.”

In the area of communication, Swenson said, “We need to step up our efforts to the people on the street.” And for collaboration, she said she wants all groups to work together to make sure there are shared goals, not goals that benefit only a particular company.

“This is unlike any effort ever undertaken by the federal government,” Swenson said. “We have to understand how unique and different this is. It’s going to take creativity to figure out how we’re going to do this, because if we don’t, we will fail.”

One challenge for FirstNet has been staffing and retaining staff at the organization. In an interview, Swenson attributed FirstNet’s high-level turnover and people in acting positions for many months to the long federal hiring process and the new, unique organization of FirstNet. For example, TJ Kennedy has been acting executive director for more than eight months, and Swenson said the process for a permanent executive director is still underway.

“We’re a new organization, and we’re bringing on people and we’re a very different organization … ,” she said. “It may sound good in the interview but it might not be what they thought it was going to be. I think it’s a healthy thing.”

In addition to Kennedy, Jason Karp is serving as acting chief counsel after Stuart Kupinsky left earlier this year. Jeff Bratcher is the acting chief technology officer (CTO) after Ali Afrashteh stepped down last December, just eight months after being hired. FirstNet Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Randy Lyon recently announced his retirement.

“You’ve got to see people in a job for a while to see if they’re a fit for the position,” Swenson said. “I’m not going to just put a person in that position without seeing them in a position for while.”

However, she said it took three months to put together the contract to perform a personnel search for the executive director position after Bill D’Agostino resigned in April 2014, after serving a year.

“They are typical government processes,” she said. “I would love it to go faster. We’re trying to streamline these processes; they are pretty embedded.”

Swenson said she and other board members and FirstNet staff have good relationships with members of Congress, and she makes a trip to the Hill whenever she is in Washington. She also praised FirstNet’s government affairs staff.

“I think our relationship with everyone in D.C. is quite good, and part of that is we do what we say we will do, and I think that builds credibility,” she said.

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