The Inspector General’s office of the U.S. Commerce Department is now auditing FirstNet, the federal government’s public-private partnership with AT&T to build out a single, nationwide public safety broadband network.
The audit will assess the administering of a mandate in the contract signed by AT&T and the FirstNet Authority, which is the federal agency responsible for overseeing the buildout of the network. The mandate, or task order as it’s referred to by the two parties, orders the maintenance, operations and deployment of the network’s core, which was made available to a subset of customers in late March . Announcement of the audit was issued to FirstNet Authority CEO Mike Poth on May 3 in a brief memorandum, informing the agency that the OIG would conduct its field work at FirstNet’s headquarters in Reston, Virginia, and other locations as necessary.
The audit is expected to last a year or less, according to the OIG . The audit will look at task order three, which relates to FirstNet’s handling of its network core — the “nervous center” of the entire public safety network, which handles all network traffic nationwide. The maintenance, deployment and operations of the core will be examined, just months after it became publicly available.
The first three task orders — to develop an online interface for state-plan development, to issue and secure opt-in’s from all 56 participating states and territories and to deploy and maintain the network core — were all issued on March 30, 2017, when FirstNet initially awarded the $46.5 billion vendor contract to AT&T. Since then, FirstNet has secured more than 1,000 public safety agencies as customers, but competition from other vendors, including a similar public safety-dedicated network core from Verizon that was announced on the same day as AT&T’s, has demanded that the agency maintain its five-year plan of building out the network. A new task order was also issued on March 9 that granted AT&T the ability to build out its Band 14 spectrum — the spectrum set aside by the federal government for the network — across 95 percent of the country.
This isn’t the first time the agency has been audited . The OIG released a report in August of 2015 that noted the agency’s hierarchy and hiring struggles, and another report just six months later recommending that FirstNet improve its accountability mechanisms and data collection processes. This is the first audit since FirstNet awarded AT&T the contract, however.
The OIG’s website says that it can conduct an audit for multiple reasons, including by law, on an order from congress, the secretary of commerce or the administration or as a high-priority issue noted in the office’s annual Top Management Challenges report. The office can also perform an audit of a project it finds “high-risk” or has shown significant issues in a previous review.
Both the FirstNet Authority and the OIG declined to comment on the record for this story.