GAO: AT&T on Track for FirstNet, Could Strengthen Oversight

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AT&T is meeting—or is on track to meet—all nationwide, contractual network coverage and adoption milestones for the First Responder Network Authority public safety broadband network. Coverage varies across states, and AT&T has exceeded adoption targets in most states but lags in others, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office.

In March 2017, FirstNet awarded a 25-year, multibillion-dollar contract to AT&T to deploy, operate, and maintain the network. 

AT&T must meet milestones specified in the contract. FirstNet’s oversight of AT&T’s progress and performance is critical given the contract’s scope and duration.  

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS) and John Thune (R-SD), who chairs the communications, technology, innovation and the internet subcommittee, sought the report. A public version was released this week. Information FirstNet considered to be proprietary was omitted.

The GAO was asked to review FirstNet’s progress and oversight. It analyzed FirstNet and AT&T documentation; assessed FirstNet’s oversight efforts against key contract-oversight practices identified in federal regulations and other government, academic, and industry guidance; and assessed the program’s master schedule against GAO best practices. The GAO interviewed FirstNet officials, and selected state, local, and tribal officials and first responders.

FirstNet uses various mechanisms to oversee AT&T; many of which align with key contract-oversight practices. For example, FirstNet uses a quality assurance surveillance plan to evaluate AT&T’s performance. However, GAO found that FirstNet lacked (1) a reliable master schedule to review, (2) communication with relevant stakeholders regarding contract oversight, and (3) meaningful information on end-users’ satisfaction to gauge performance quality.

The GAO is making four recommendations, including that FirstNet ensure the schedule aligns with GAO best practices, share additional oversight and other information with appropriate stakeholders, and use end-user satisfaction information to gauge performance. In response, FirstNet Authority CTO Jeff Bratcher said in a letter: “FirstNet Authority agrees with the GAO recommendations and will take appropriate additional steps to apply lessons learned and address GAO’s concerns.”

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