By Richard Mirgon, Public Safety Consultant
We have all done this. Received an invitation to a party, the invitation had a range of time and you show up just before the party ends. What happens? Well the first thing is all the good refreshments are gone and the food platter has been picked over. Yes, you’re still going to eat and drink and your host will make sure you’re taken care of but it won’t be the same experience.
So how does this apply to FirstNet? Although I don’t think the details have been released and I am not aware of the specifics, but based on public documents the RFP that AT&T responded to and won has benchmarks for coverage which include rural coverage along with user adoption rates. What is also believed to be part of the agreement are penalties for not reaching those benchmarks. Simple logic dictates that the sooner a state opts in, the more aggressive AT&T will be in a state to meet those benchmarks. In my view, there are governors who get this basic logic and understand how it will benefit their first responders.
The next issue is that I “get” why a state is doing due diligence and issuing an RFP. Having spent 40 years in government I would consider doing the same thing. But it is all about timing. If you were going to issue an RFP, two months ago would have made a lot of sense. Issuing an RFP today may not make as much sense. There are many times you have more than enough information to make a valid and correct decision. The key is not over doing it.
Former National Security Advisor Colin Powell in his leadership discussions calls this the 40-70 rule. He says that with less than 40% of the information you’re “shooting from the hip”. If you have more than 70%, the opportunity may have passed and someone has “beaten you to the punch”. He contends that is what makes the difference between average leaders and great leaders. My point is simple. How much more information is any state going to get with an RFP? We have all heard that only a couple of companies are responding. We all know many of the states are sharing information. Does anyone really think there is another answer out there that they haven’t heard of? The official term for this is paralysis by analysis.
One other thought that bothers me a lot. I have heard from some who are telling me their consultants want them to issue an RFP with remaining funds in their funding source. Basically, let’s bill all we can. Okay fine, they have lots of overhead, buildings to pay for and payroll to meet, but that shouldn’t be at the expense of the taxpayer. Yes I too am a consultant but when it comes to my government engagements I want to be in and done. It is never about billable hours. It should be about accomplishing the task. My more direct criticism is that many of these have already seen responses to state RFP’s and they know that the information isn’t going to change. (Okay, they don’t “know” because they don’t have a crystal ball. But let’s face it, it isn’t likely to change.) Yet I know some are pushing states to do RFP’s because “there is money left over”. That’s doing the wrong thing for the wrong reason. I have not heard from one state official or consultant that anyone has provided a better option than what FirstNet and AT&T have proposed.
During a presentation I made a couple of weeks ago I discussed opt out with a group of first responders and pointed out two key issues I had not talked about in a long time. The first has to do with how we buy in public safety. If we need a critical piece of equipment do we build it? No we go to the experts. Fire department don’t build fire trucks. They set the specifications and buy from the experts. The second issue is state controlled networks/systems. We all know when the politics change in a state so does the support for a project. The policy may change to move a project to a low priority and the funding dries up. We see that every day. We have seen that with radio systems. Every state I can think of has had trouble maintaining their land mobile radio systems due to a lack of political support or funding at some point. This was one of the driving forces behind the design of FirstNet, take the politics out.
In the end is there really value in doing an RFP at this point in the process? Is there going to be new information? And if you’re a highly rural state, don’t you want to be the showcase for public safety? Don’t be late to the party. As I have said many times and I will say it again, this is about first responders and saving lives. Each day that goes by is a day you had the opportunity to make a difference.
Richard Mirgon is a Public Safety consultant focused on FirstNet. He is a Past President of APCO International and has over 35 years of public safety and first responder experience. For more information about the author please go to http://www.presidential-partners.com/the-partners/