GAO Identifies Tribal Consultation, Staffing as Potential FirstNet Weaknesses
Thursday, July 20, 2017 | Comments

A report released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) identifies outreach to tribal stakeholders and future staffing for the Network Program Office as potential areas of concern for the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet).

In preparing the report, the GAO reviewed the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 that created FirstNet, reviewed documentation from FirstNet and other federal entities, and talked to public-safety stakeholders.

State public-safety officials that the GAO contacted said they were generally satisfied with FirstNet’s attempts to engage with them. However, the tribal stakeholders contacted expressed concerns about FirstNet’s efforts to contact them as required by the legislation.

Four of the five tribal organizations contacted said that FirstNet has not fully engaged in effective communications or relied too much on the state points of contact (SPOC) instead of directly consulting with the tribes, according to the report. The fifth tribal organization said it was not aware of FirstNet or its mission.

The report recommended that FirstNet take actions to more fully explore tribal concerns and engage with tribal stakeholders.

During a Senate subcommittee hearing on FirstNet the day the report was released, FirstNet CEO Mike Poth said that FirstNet is working to address the concerns covered in the report. The organization has created policies for consulting with tribes and has also created a working group of 15 people to address tribal concerns and issues, Poth said.

Chris Sambar, senior vice president for FirstNet partner AT&T, said that as his team has traveled around the country and met with stakeholders, it has invited tribal stakeholders whenever possible.

“Our goal is to reach as many of them as possible, and these meetings and engagements will continue during the year,” Sambar said.

During last month’s FirstNet board meeting, board member Kevin McGinnis stressed the importance of getting tribal stakeholders involved and said he would like to see one of the vacant spots on the board filled by a tribal stakeholder.

The other key area of concern highlighted by the GAO report was future staffing for the Network Program Office. The report noted that FirstNet established the office to oversee AT&T’s performance and ensure the completion of deliverables under the contract. However, as of April 2017, FirstNet had not conducted long-term projections of staffing needs for the office.

The GAO concluded that FirstNet does not have “reasonable assurance” that the office will have sufficient resources to carry out its functions as its duties increase over time and recommended that FirstNet perform a long-term staffing assessment for the office. According to the report, FirstNet agreed with the recommendation and is working to implement it.

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