Conflicts Of Interest, Lack Of Transparency Mar Our Attempt To Build A Nationwide Emergency Wireless Network

from the when can we officially call it a boondoggle dept

Prompted by the communications network failures during 9/11, roughly fourteen years ago the government began exploring the building of a nationwide emergency communications network specifically for first responders and emergency personnel. While it took a decade of Congressional bickering, the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 finally created the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet). FirstNet was given $7 billion and tasked with building a nationwide LTE network that largely piggybacks on the networks of existing carriers, delivering what the project’s website declares will be a “a force multiplier, increasing collaboration to help emergency responders save more lives, solve more crimes and keep our communities safer.”

Except as we previously noted, allegations emerged early on that the project had been stocked with executives from the nation’s biggest wireless carriers, who were criticized for giving closed-door preference to AT&T and Verizon friends, and elbowing out folks with actual emergency, first responder or emergency backgrounds. The result was a project that has seen little actual progress, gridlocked by a raise by the carriers to corner the billions in project funds. To ease concerns, the organization investigated itself late last year and unsurprisingly found no indications of wrong doing or conflict of interest.

Fast forward a year, and the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Commerce has released a report (pdf) that’s nowhere near as forgiving. According to the study, there were numerous conflicts of interest, and FirstNet board members were pretty fast and loose when it came to adhering to disclosure rules, either filing late, or when they did file — not actually bothering to disclose conflicts of interest that did exist:

“Finally, all four of these Board members continued to engage in decision making, even though they were not in compliance with the financial disclosure requirements. Departmental officials could have elevated or called attention to these issues, in order to prevent or remedy these conditions. But, without a more effective ethics program in place for FirstNet, the Department has not created sufficient internal controls to ensure a sound process for the filing of Board members? financial disclosures.”

While it uses very polite language to say so, the report unsurprisingly found that conflict of interest problems arose because FirstNet wasn’t paying very close attention to what few rules it had. The study found FirstNet also appears to have significant failures when it comes to expenditures, decision documentation, contract bids and transparency, pretty much across the board:

“…the FirstNet Board operational procedures for monitoring potential conflicts of interest need improvement…In addition, FirstNet contracting practices lacked transparent award competition, sufficient oversight of hiring, adequate monitoring, and procedures to prevent payment of erroneous costs…Inconsistencies in record keeping and administration suggest a lack of active or centralized supervision and quality control, thereby creating gaps in oversight and increasing the risk of noncompliance with disclosure requirements among FirstNet Board members. This is especially critical, given Board member ties to the telecommunications industry.”

The government is apparently still in the process of determining whether any of the violations require “additional administrative action,” though many of the original board members (and FirstNet GM and former Verizon exec Bill D’Agostino) have already moved on. FirstNet chair Sue Swenson, meanwhile, acknowledges that “some administrative missteps” took place, but insists that the project is finally on the right path. Hopefully that’s comforting to the people who’ll be impacted by the major domestic disasters of the last few years. At least we still have ham radio operators, who’ll probably still be carrying disaster communications responsibilities on their volunteer shoulders a decade from now.

Filed Under: , , ,
Companies: firstnet

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Conflicts Of Interest, Lack Of Transparency Mar Our Attempt To Build A Nationwide Emergency Wireless Network”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
That One Guysays:

'No foxes in this hen-house, just us chickens'

To ease concerns, the organization investigated itself late last year and unsurprisingly found no indications of wrong doing or conflict of interest.

I just… I have to ask… what moron, years or decades back, first thought that internal investigations were a good idea? If someone, group or individual, is suspected of wrongdoing, how completely and utterly broken does your mind need to be to think that asking the accused to investigate themselves is a good idea?

Are the people who believe that such a thing is a good idea hopeless optimists, who just cannot fathom why someone would ever hide the truth, even if that truth would implicate them? Are they suffering from a specific form of brain damage, where they simply cannot grasp the idea of ‘conflict of interest’?

Really, the idea that ‘internal investigations’ are even remotely considered acceptable, it just boggles the mind.


Re: 'No foxes in this hen-house, just us chickens'

“what moron, years or decades back, first thought that internal investigations were a good idea?”

The answer is obvious: the people with the most to lose from a negative investigation. What boggles MY mind is how people went on to have any faith in such investigations who weren’t internal?

Derek Kertonsays:

Re: 'No foxes in this hen-house, just us chickens'

“what moron, years or decades back, first thought that internal investigations were a good idea?”

Always internal folks. And it IS a good idea. For them.

An internal investigation is pretty much ALWAYS a response to the risk of an external investigation. It is done in the hopes that the line “No need for that. There already has been an investigation.” would give enough political cover to stave off a pending external investigation. It is the FUD of investigations.

The biased investigation is then put in pretty folders and cover pages, and presented by politicians “friendly” to the cause. They use words to describe it, such as “rigorous, detailed, no stone left unturned, thorough, unbiased, aggressive”, avoiding the word “internal”. Sometimes (well, often) that is enough confusion and uncertainty about whether a legit investigation has been done to quash any legit investigation. It’s a version of false equivalence, like how 1% of scientists can say there is no AGW, thus “the debate is still ongoing”. It doesn’t take much doubt to create the veil of a 50/50 “he said, she said” debate.

The beauty of it for the internal crew is that it can usually be considered billable hours, and charged back to someone. Sure, it doesn’t work every time, but that’s a bet worth taking every time.

Judd Sandagesays:

Yeah, us Ham's will carry the load

Those of us Licensed Amateurs will still be providing (free of charge) comms for decades to come, cause we can get the job done, not stand around and bicker about who should do what, what might work, what might not, weather or not the company one person works for deserves to get the cash, or if we can piggy back on someone else’s network.

Hell with 7 billion I could have built a nation wide radio network that would have allowed someone to talk from one side of the country to the other, using custom radios and a small spectrum of radio frequency that I would have snagged from the FCC, and never even bothered with the telcos… no need as their towers always get either knocked down or overloaded in times of disaster. probably have spent a billion just getting everything up and running, used a few million more a year for maintenance and gave the rest back.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...
Older Stuff
13:40 It's Great That Winnie The Pooh Is In The Public Domain; But He Should Have Been Free In 1982 (Or Earlier) (35)
12:06 Norton 360 Now Comes With Crypto Mining Capabilities And Sketchy Removal Process (28)
10:45 Chinese Government Dragnet Now Folding In American Social Media Platforms To Silence Dissent (14)
10:40 Daily Deal: The 2022 Ultimate Cybersecurity Analyst Preparation Bundle (0)
09:29 A Fight Between Facebook And The British Medical Journal Highlights The Difficulty Of Moderating 'Medical Misinformation' (9)
06:29 Court Ruling Paves The Way For Better, More Reliable Wi-Fi (4)
20:12 Eighth Circuit (Again) Says There's Nothing Wrong With Detaining Innocent Minors At Gunpoint (15)
15:48 China's Regulatory War On Its Gaming Industry Racks Up 14k Casualties (10)
13:31 Chinese Government Fines Local Car Dealerships For Surveilling While Not Being The Government (5)
12:08 Eric Clapton Pretends To Regret The Decision To Sue Random German Woman Who Listed A Bootleg Of One Of His CDs On Ebay (29)
10:44 ICE Is So Toxic That The DHS's Investigative Wing Is Asking To Be Completely Separated From It (29)
10:39 Daily Deal: The 2022 Complete Raspberry Pi And Arduino Developer Bundle (0)
09:31 Google Blocked An Article About Police From The Intercept... Because The Title Included A Phrase That Was Also A Movie Title (24)
06:22 Wireless Carriers Balk At FAA Demand For 5G Deployment Delays Amid Shaky Safety Concerns (16)
19:53 Tenth Circuit Denies Qualified Immunity To Social Worker Who Fabricated A Mother's Confession Of Child Abuse (35)
15:39 Sci-Hub's Creator Thinks Academic Publishers, Not Her Site, Are The Real Threat To Science, And Says: 'Any Law Against Knowledge Is Fundamentally Unjust' (34)
13:32 Federal Court Tells Proud Boys Defendants That Raiding The Capitol Building Isn't Covered By The First Amendment (25)
12:14 US Courts Realizing They Have A Judge Alan Albright Sized Problem In Waco (17)
10:44 Boston Police Department Used Forfeiture Funds To Hide Purchase Of Surveillance Tech From City Reps (16)
10:39 Daily Deal: The Ultimate Microsoft Excel Training Bundle (0)
09:20 NY Senator Proposes Ridiculously Unconstitutional Social Media Law That Is The Mirror Opposite Of Equally Unconstitutional Laws In Florida & Texas (25)
06:12 Telecom Monopolies Are Exploiting Crappy U.S. Broadband Maps To Block Community Broadband Grant Requests (7)
12:00 Funniest/Most Insightful Comments Of 2021 At Techdirt (17)
10:00 Gaming Like It's 1926: Join The Fourth Annual Public Domain Game Jam (6)
09:00 New Year's Message: The Arc Of The Moral Universe Is A Twisty Path (33)
19:39 DHS, ICE Begin Body Camera Pilot Program With Surprisingly Good Policies In Place (7)
15:29 Remembering Techdirt Contributors Sherwin And Elliot (1)
13:32 DC Metro PD's Powerful Review Panel Keeps Giving Bad Cops Their Jobs Back (6)
12:11 Missouri Governor Still Expects Journalists To Be Prosecuted For Showing How His Admin Leaked Teacher Social Security Numbers (39)
10:48 Oversight Board Overturning Instagram Takedown Of Ayahuasca Post Demonstrates The Impossibility Of Content Moderation (10)
More arrow
This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it