U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, will convene a hearing on Wednesday, March 11, 2015, at 10:00 a.m. entitled “Three Years Later: Are We Any Closer To A Nationwide Public Safety Wireless Broadband Network?” The chairwoman of the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), the organization mandated to establish the first nationwide broadband network for emergency responders, and officials from the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Government Accountability Office will testify at the hearing.
At the urging of the public safety community, the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 created FirstNet, an organization designed to serve as an “independent authority” in the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and to “provide emergency responders with the first nationwide, high-speed network dedicated to public safety." As highlighted by the tragedy of 9/11, the reliance by first responders on separate networks has made communications among public safety professionals problematic during emergencies.
The hearing will examine the progress of FirstNet's nationwide wireless broadband network for emergency responders. Witnesses will discuss progress and challenges in building the network, as well as FirstNet’s future as a self-funding entity as required by the Act.
- The Honorable Bruce Andrews, Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of Commerce
- Mr. Mark Goldstein, Director (Physical Infrastructure), Government Accountability Office (GAO)
- Ms. Susan Swenson, Chairwoman, First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet)
- The Honorable Todd Zinser, Inspector General, U.S. Department of Commerce
- Chief G. Keith Bryant, President and Chairman of the Board, International Association of Fire Chiefs
Wednesday, March 11, 2015
Full Committee hearing entitled “Three Years Later: Are We Any Closer To A Nationwide Public Safety Wireless Broadband Network?”
This hearing will take place in Senate Russell Office Building, Room 253. Witness testimony, opening statements and a live video of the hearing will be available on this page.
For reporters interested in reserving a seat, please contact the press gallery:
• Periodical Press Gallery – 202-224-0265
• Radio/Television Gallery – 202-224-6421
• Press Photographers Gallery – 202-224-6548
• Daily Press Gallery – 202-224-0241
Individuals with disabilities who require an auxiliary aid or service, including closed captioning service for the webcast hearing, should contact Stephanie Gamache at 202-224-5511 at least three business days in advance of the hearing date.
Chairman John Thune
"We convene this morning to conduct oversight of the First Responder Network Authority, also known as FirstNet. In 2012, Congress established FirstNet with a mandate to deploy an interoperable nationwide wireless broadband network for America’s first responders. Three years later, our committee is revisiting this issue for the first time since we passed the Spectrum Act. Today’s hearing will examine the progress and challenges FirstNet is encountering as it moves forward with the important mission of building a twenty-first century communications platform for our country’s emergency personnel.
"The title of this hearing asks whether we are any closer today to having this twenty-first century public safety network. Of course, in a literal sense, we are: the Spectrum Act was enacted; FirstNet has been stood up; consultations with the states have begun; and FirstNet is on the verge of releasing its highly-anticipated draft Request for Proposals (RFP).
"But in other ways, we are still a very long way away from having an interoperable public safety network. There are a great many things that can go terribly wrong unless good decisions are made right now. For example, FirstNet’s forthcoming RFP will give us a sense of whether a network can be built to meet the needs and expectations of a diverse audience of emergency responders in a cost-effective way that secures FirstNet for future generations. FirstNet must work diligently to make itself a self-funding entity because, frankly, we are not in a budget environment that can easily tolerate spending more than the $7 billion in taxpayer dollars that has already been committed to the network.
"We are also confronted with many pressing and unanswered questions due to the complexity of establishing a new communications system.
"Stakeholders, including many in my home state of South Dakota, have questions about what FirstNet will mean for them. There are legitimate concerns about how much network access will cost local police and fire departments who are already dealing with constrained budgets. And, if the network is competitive from a cost perspective, many wonder whether it will be appreciably better than what first responders currently use. I know FirstNet is aware of these issues and I encourage the organization to be sensitive to the unique challenges of local communities.
"Last year, I asked GAO to examine FirstNet and its progress in building the network. In just a few minutes, we will hear from Mr. Goldstein about GAO’s findings and the concerns that they raise. Ms. Swenson, I hope and ask that FirstNet will take this constructive criticism seriously and will improve its approach to building the network. Specifically, I urge FirstNet to more fully assess the risks it may face in pursuing its laudable objectives. I also ask FirstNet to implement a detailed data-analysis plan that builds upon the valuable lessons learned from the early builder projects. I share GAO’s view that, without such a plan, FirstNet might not take full advantage of the sizeable federal investment that has already been made in these early builder projects.
"The Commerce Department’s Inspector General (IG) also recently released a report on FirstNet that raised several issues concerning FirstNet’s ethics and procurement practices. I look forward to hearing what lessons FirstNet has learned from this report and whether the IG’s findings have been fully addressed.
"The Department of Commerce also finds itself at a crucial stage of this process. The Department should ask itself whether it is being the best partner it can be to FirstNet and facilitating development of a public safety network that makes us all more secure. FirstNet’s unique position as an “independent authority” within the Department comes with some risk. So much so that one commentator recently asked whether FirstNet is on a path to becoming the next “healthcare.gov,” the Obamacare website best known for its disastrous rollout thanks to the Administration’s mismanagement – only the challenge of setting up this network is arguably many times greater. I strongly encourage the Department to do everything it can to learn from the many mistakes of healthcare.gov.
"FirstNet itself also has questions it will need to answer for this endeavor to be successful. For instance, to what degree will emergency responders wish to join a network affiliated with the federal government? What is the value to wireless carriers of secondary network access when public safety has priority access? Who exactly will be permitted to use the public safety network?
"As this committee proceeds with oversight of FirstNet, I will focus particularly on whether a high-quality and useful network can be offered to first responders in rural America. FirstNet will be a failure if it leaves large pockets of rural America uncovered or served by second-rate solutions.
"We have an experienced and knowledgeable panel with us today, and I expect their testimony will provide the Committee with important insight into the issues I’ve raised."
Witness Panel 1
The Honorable Bruce AndrewsDeputy SecretaryU.S. Department of Commerce
Mr. Mark GoldsteinDirector, Physical InfrastructureU.S. Government Accountability Office
Ms. Susan SwensonChairwomanFirst Responder Network Authority (FirstNet)
The Honorable Todd ZinserInspector GeneralU.S. Department of Commerce
Chief G. Keith BryantPresident and Chairman of the BoardInternational Association of Fire Chiefs