GAO testimony on efforts to establish the Public Safety Broadband Network
Jul 28, 2017
Thursday, July 20, 2017
Statement of Mark L. Goldstein, Director, Physical Infrastructure Issues
Chairman Wicker, Ranking Member Schatz, and Members of the Subcommittee:
Thank you for the opportunity to discuss our June 2017 report on the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), which we are publicly releasing today.1 We have previously reported and testified on FirstNet.2 Whether conducting daily operations, overseeing planned events, or responding to emergencies, public safety officials—especially first responders such as police officers and firefighters—rely on communications systems to gather and share information and coordinate their efforts. However, first responders often have difficulty communicating with their counterparts in other agencies and jurisdictions because existing systems lack interoperability.
The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 (the 2012 Act) created FirstNet and required it to establish a nationwide, interoperable public-safety broadband network (hereafter, the network)—setting aside spectrum for the network to operate on and providing FirstNet with $7 billion to fund the network’s initial build-out.3 FirstNet must be self-funding beyond this initial $7 billion. Key to the network’s success, given its purpose, is its reliability, security, and interoperability. To inform its work, FirstNet must consult with state and local, federal, and tribal stakeholders.4 Since 2012, FirstNet has completed a number of tasks to plan for the build-out of the network, the most significant of which was the issuance of a request for proposal to solicit proposals from private companies to build, operate, and maintain the network. From these proposals, FirstNet selected AT&T as its network contractor and awarded it a multi-billion dollar, 25-year contract. Due to the size of the project and duration of the contract, the oversight mechanisms that FirstNet plans to use to monitor AT&T’s progress and performance in building, operating, and maintaining the network are important.
My remarks today are based on our report, which (1) examines FirstNet’s efforts to establish and finance the network; (2) describes stakeholder views on network reliability, security, and interoperability challenges FirstNet faces and its research and other efforts to address them; and (3) assesses FirstNet’s plans to oversee the deployment of the network by its network contractor. In our report, we recommended that FirstNet fully explore tribal stakeholders’ concerns and assess its long-term staffing needs. FirstNet agreed with these recommendations.
For our report, we reviewed the 2012 Act, FirstNet documentation, and documentation from other federal entities involved in FirstNet’s efforts, such as FirstNet’s key research partner, the Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) program.5 We compared FirstNet’s efforts to respond to tribal stakeholders’ concerns with the applicable key principle of effective tribal communication on federal infrastructure decisions developed by several federal agencies.6 We assessed the PSCR’s and FirstNet’s research activities against our previously identified criteria on key phases of sound research programs.7 We assessed FirstNet’s contract oversight plans against key acquisition and contract oversight practices and actions established in federal acquisition regulations, the Department of Commerce’s (Commerce) acquisition manual, prior GAO reports, and other academic and industry sources.8 We also interviewed FirstNet and Commerce officials. To obtain stakeholder views on all our objectives—particularly the challenges FirstNet faces—we selected and contacted 33 stakeholders, including public safety, state and local government, and tribal associations and organizations; the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Communications Commission, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration; and state government and public safety officials. We selected these stakeholders to obtain a variety of viewpoints from a cross section of interests and geographic locations; their views are not generalizable. Further details on our scope and methodology are included in our report. The work on which this statement is based was conducted in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.