All FirstNet board members last week unanimously voted to approve the final request for proposal (RFP) for the multibillion-dollar nationwide public-safety broadband network, but the full board will not select the winning bid. Instead, FirstNet officials say that a team that could have representation from the board and other federal entities will spearhead an evaluation process that will result in a selection recommendation that will be executed formally by the contracting officer being used by FirstNet.

FirstNet CEO Mike Poth said that FirstNet board members understand and approved the evaluation process, which will be revealed in greater detail when the RFP is released early next month.

“There’s a specific, structured process that the board has bought into,” Poth said during a conference call with members of the press after last Wednesday’s full board meeting. “They’re clear on their roles and responsibilities in that process. They feel very comfortable.

“We can’t get into details specific to that, but the board and their expertise is certainly being brought to bear. It certainly has been brought to bear up to this point, and we—consistent with the structured evaluation process—are going to be able to capitalize on that, as needed.”

Members of the evaluation team will not be revealed publically, in accordance with federal acquisitions regulations (FAR) 3.104—the section that outlines “Procurement Integrity”—according to FirstNet spokesman Ryan Oremland.

“We’ve set up an evaluation team, which may consist of members of FirstNet staff, the FirstNet Board, senior managers and advisors, as well as our partners the U.S. Department of the Interior [DoI], the National Telecommunications and Information Administration [NTIA] and the U.S. Department of Commerce [DoC],” Oremland said in a prepared statement. “All members of the evaluation team will be subject to ethics reviews to ensure a conflict-free evaluation.”

The evaluation team will assess all proposals and make a selection recommendation to the contracting officer (CO) and source-selection authority (SSA)—in this case, Terrie Callahan, who is working for FirstNet as part of an interagency agreement with the U.S. Department of the Interior—who ensures that all rules and regulations are followed properly. Theoretically, the contracting officer could select a vendor team other than the one recommended by the evaluation team, but that “rarely, if ever, happens,” according to a Beltway source familiar with the process.

With $6.5 billion in federal funding—not to mention tens of billions more in potential user fees and spectrum-access rights—associated with the FirstNet project that promises to be a critical part of future first-responder communications, there has been significant interest in the selection process.

Aside from general curiosity, most questions surrounding the FirstNet selection process have focused on two areas: (1) having qualified people evaluate and select the proposal that will best serve public safety for the long term; and (2) ensuring that the process is done in accordance with federal procurement rules, so the FirstNet system deployment is not delayed or derailed by legal protests surrounding the bid process.