While AT&T is on track to meet all nationwide First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) milestones, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) this week flagged schedule, communication, and end-user satisfaction management issues that it said could stop the program from reaching its full potential.

“AT&T has made progress deploying the network and meeting contractual milestones and goals, and FirstNet has employed a variety of mechanisms—many of which align with key practices—to oversee AT&T’s performance,” the Jan. 27 report states. “However, the success of the network depends not only on AT&T’s contract execution and FirstNet’s oversight but also on the confidence of the end users, the nation’s first responders.”

Ultimately, GAO’s four recommendations all ask FirstNet’s CEO to improve oversight measures:

  • Take steps to ensure that the master schedule for FirstNet is developed and maintained in accordance with GAO’s Schedule Assessment Guide;
  • Identify information about FirstNet’s oversight and monitoring activities that can be shared with public safety stakeholders and periodically report on this information;
  • Share relevant portions of the state-specific commitment reports with the states; and
  • Obtain periodic information or meaningful indicators on end-user satisfaction with FirstNet to server as a metric gauging performance quality.

The oversight agency commended AT&T’s progress with FirstNet but said that the company’s results vary by state. AT&T is meeting initial milestones – such as the goal to have 20 percent of the final expected coverage completed by March 2019 – but adoption coverage is not consistent across states. On that point, FirstNet officials noted that variances by state are allowable as all key milestones are based on nationwide coverage.

FirstNet CTO Jeff Bratcher agreed with all recommendations in a letter to the agency but raised issues with some GAO figures. Since GAO’s April 2019 audit, more device types, agencies, and connections have been added to FirstNet. Additionally, Bratcher said that FirstNet has launched initiatives to improve stakeholder communication and engage its users.

“[Public Safety Advocacy teams] had discussions with over 28,000 stakeholders and collected feedback from stakeholders related to their impressions of FirstNet network and broadband successes, challenges, and suggestions for product development,” the CTO said in a letter to GAO.

Looking ahead, the GAO report states that AT&T is on track to meet its first nationwide adoption milestone, having a certain number of devices connected to the network, by March 2020.

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Katie Malone
Katie Malone
Katie Malone is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.