The Situation Report: FirstNet Worries and VA’s Leadership Rumors

firstnet

Public Safety Communications

Remember that $7 billion Congress allocated to help establish a nationwide public safety broadband network, known as FirstNet? Well, when was the last time 50 states agreed on anything?

My Reston, Va., listening post has picked up increasing concerns about FirstNet’s decision to adopt a centralized, controlled network. As any informed observer can imagine, each state’s emergency communications capabilities are based on separate networks and use vastly different technologies—although many still rely on Land Mobile Radios and, according to insider reports, have no plans to completely ditch their own autonomous LMR networks. And that’s a problem for FirstNet.

FirstNet has taken the position that state autonomy in network design decisions and management will jeopardize FirstNet’s ability to provide a network that meets its coverage and service goals.

“The governance model chosen by FirstNet is a federalized, centrally planned and directed network, bolstered by federal procurement practices that limit states to a consultative role,” according to a congressional analysis intercepted by The Situation Report. “A risk in choosing this model is that states may consider the federal presence excessive and cease to cooperate with FirstNet, jeopardizing the purpose of the network.”

But May is the month of proposals for FirstNet. Potential bidders will first be sending FirstNet officials capability statements followed by full proposals to build the network.

However, my mobile listening post outside of 445 12th Street SW, Washington, D.C., has picked up strong signals that the FCC is working hard on opt-out plans.

“As I have suggested to the board a number of times with all due respect, FirstNet isn’t the foremost thing on the minds of many governors when dealing with fiscal crises and natural disasters and things like that,” said former Vermont governor James Douglas during the last FirstNet board meeting in March.

VA’s New CISO?
situation report logoMy listening post on Vermont Avenue in Washington, D.C., tuned into the rumor mill this week and discovered some interesting, yet unconfirmed, reports of a new deputy assistant secretary for cybersecurity at VA.

Talk at VA is that Dominic Cussatt, the deputy director for cybersecurity policy in Terry Holvorsen’s office at the Defense Department, is packing his bags to take the cybersecurity gig at VA. Cussatt would replace Ron Thompson, who’s been serving as interim CISO since Veterans Affairs CIO LaVerne Council ordered Brian Burns to “redirect his exclusive focus on VA’s role in the Interagency Program Office (IPO).”

Truth or Dare?

My remote sensing system on Capitol Hill has picked up chatter that some “analysts” on the Hill are daring lawmakers to do away with traditional polygraph examinations for security clearance holders in favor of the intelligence community’s new Continuous Evaluation program, which relies on constant monitoring of social media and other forms of big data analytics.

If Congress—which isn’t subject to a polygraph examination—does consider eliminating the polygraph, the result could be new business for the IT industry.

“What emerging technologies show the most promise in providing more objective measures to detect lying?” asked the congressional researcher. “Should additional resources be directed toward encouraging such technologies?”

That said, the result could also be a boom in business for foreign intelligence services.

Intercept a situation report? Email me at dverton@meritalk.com or DM via Twitter

Dan Verton
About Dan Verton
MeriTalk Executive Editor Dan Verton is a veteran journalist and winner of the First Place Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for Best News Reporting -- the highest award in the nation for business/trade journalism. Dan earned a Master's Degree in Journalism and Public Affairs from American University in Washington, D.C., and has spent the last 20 years in the nation's capital reporting on government, enterprise technology, policy and national cybersecurity. He’s also a former intelligence officer in the United States Marine Corps, has authored three books on cybersecurity, and has testified on critical infrastructure protection before both House and Senate committees.
2 Comments
  1. Anonymous | - Reply
    States tend to move in a different direction when the federal government is too heavily involved. Will be interesting to see what happens and if states choose a different network.
  2. Anonymous | - Reply
    Dom probably won't like it at the VA. LaVerne Council doesn't want the best cyber security program in the federal government, or a good program, or even a program that is fully compliant with the FISMA-mandated minimum requirements. All she wants is to do the bare minimum to convince VA OIG to reduce the "material weakness" to a "significant deficiency" for FY16, before she bails out. You can bet the problems at VA extend beyond this years audit sites and there will be a material weakness in future years. Who wants to be the CISO under that kind of leadership? He'll just be the next one to take the blame. Hopefully the next VA Secretary will want a good, or even great, cyber security program at the VA. Our veterans deserve it (and should be demanding at least what is required by law).

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