Written byDan Verton
The First Responder Network Authority, known as FirstNet, this week announced the abrupt departure of General Manager Bill D’Agostino, raising questions about the FirstNet board’s independence from the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration.
FirstNet issued a statement April 14 that D’Agostino resigned for personal and family reasons, and that Deputy General Manager TJ Kennedy had taken the helm effective immediately.
But a FedScoop source who works with FirstNet at the state level raised questions about political influence from NTIA and the Commerce Department, and said D’Agostino “rubbed some people the wrong way.”
A spokesman for FirstNet declined to comment on the claims that D’Agostino may have been pressured to step down just short of one year on the job. But others point to the rigor of FirstNet’s nationwide outreach effort, which has required extensive travel by D’Agostino and other senior FirstNet managers.
D’Agostino’s departure comes at a critical time for the effort to build and deploy a nationwide broadband network for first responders. In March, the FirstNet board voted to move forward with a strategic roadmap officials hope will lead to the development of a business plan, including a strategy for staffing and resources. Over the past several months, FirstNet has built out its senior management team, pulling in experts from industry, government and public safety to lead the organization.
FirstNet spokesman Ryan Oremland told FedScoop the organization is well positioned to move forward while the board conducts the search for a new general manager.
“We don’t anticipate losing any momentum as we now have the people, plans and partnerships in place to execute our mission,” Oremland said. “When you consider our federal staff, details from other agencies, and contractors, we have a diverse staff of more than 80 people, and many of them have been working in this space – public safety communications – for several years.”
Oremland said the roadmap has received positive responses from the vendor community, and from key FirstNet partners in the states, territories and public safety community.
FirstNet is governed by a 15-member board consisting of the attorney general, the secretary of homeland security, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, and 12 members appointed by the secretary of commerce. The board is composed of representatives from public safety; local, state and federal government; and the wireless industry.
Some members of the FirstNet board, however, have expressed concerns about the transparency of FirstNet deliberations and its close ties to the wireless industry. Last year, FirstNet board member Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald of Story County, Iowa, introduced a resolution calling for the creation of an independent review committee to review the FirstNet strategic plan. Fitzgerald argued the plan had been “driven largely or entirely by board members having a commercial wireless point of view and not by board members with a public safety point of view.”
D’Agostino served as an executive director for Verizon Wireless in Southern California from 2008-2012.
“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 statement. “Although I will no longer be part of the mission, I will remain an ardent supporter and look forward to its future successes.”