D'Agostino FirstNet Board Resignation Signals Turbulence Amid Ethics Investigation

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By Bryce Baschuk  

April 15 --After nearly a year, the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) Board's first general manager, Bill D'Agostino, has resigned due to personal and family reasons, according to an April 14 announcement.

FirstNet Deputy General Manager TJ Kennedy will temporarily replace D'Agostino until the board hires a permanent replacement, the group said.

The news comes as the organization faces an ongoing inquiry related to ethics concerns related to FirstNet procurement's activities.

FirstNet, which operates under the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration, is currently overseeing the building of a nationwide broadband network for public safety officials, the last unfulfilled recommendation of the 9/11 Commission. FirstNet was created by the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 (Pub. L. No. 112-96), which set aside 10 megahertz of spectrum and appropriated $7 billion to build a nationwide, interoperable broadband network for public safety officials.

GM Search Begins

“I have been honored to lead FirstNet's management efforts over the past year, and believe the organization is now well positioned to enter the next stage of its development,” D'Agostino said in a news release.

During his tenure, D'Agostino helped recruit and hire staff members to help the FirstNet board deploy the nation's first interoperable public safety network. D'Agostino was previously an executive director for Verizon Wireless in Southern California and held executive positions for Sprint PCS, Airtouch Communications, and Pacific Bell.

“We appreciate Bill's service as general manager over the past year--a critical time in FirstNet's early planning stage,” said FirstNet Board Chairman Sam Ginn. “Bill believed that public safety should be a partner in defining network features and capabilities, and we will remember the example he set for us.”

The FirstNet board has launched its search for a new general manager and plans to post the availability on USAjobs.gov.

Conflict of Interest Investigation

D'Agostino's departure “signals problems and seems to validate that FirstNet--if it happens at all--is not likely to happen anytime soon,” said Jim Bell, a principle at the Interop Consortium, in an e-mail to Bloomberg BNA.

D'Agostino joined the FirstNet board last year as its members faced conflict-of-interest allegations due, in part, to their connections with the wireless industry. The FirstNet board is composed of wireless and telecommunications industry executives, government officials, and representatives from public safety organizations.

At an April 23 FirstNet board meeting, board member Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald of Story County, Iowa, said he was concerned that FirstNet was not engaging in open and transparent decision making as is required by the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act. Specifically, Fitzgerald said FirstNet's decisions were made without first undertaking a “detailed and structured consultation process with states and public safety agencies,” and were “driven largely or entirely by members having a commercial wireless point of view and not by board members with a public safety point of view.” Fitzgerald declined to comment for this story.

The FirstNet special review committee concluded in a Sept. 20 report that the board's pre-meeting briefings and weekly calls were “informational briefings that did not constitute decision making, voting or otherwise narrow options in such a manner so as to preclude issues that would appropriately be considered by the board in public session.” The matter has since been referred to the Department of Commerce's Inspector General for review which is “still on-going,” said Clark Reid, a spokesman for the Department's Office of the Inspector General, in an e-mail statement to Bloomberg BNA.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bryce Baschuk in Washington at bbaschuk@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com

For more information see the announcement here: http://firstnet.gov/news/firstnet-board-launch-nationwide-search-new-general-manager.

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