Feds visit Bureau of Technology to review grant use

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ST. CROIX - Representatives from a federal granting agency were in the territory, reviewing the Bureau of Information Technology's use of grants funds awarded to help the local government plan for participating in a nationwide first responders/public safety broadband network.

According to a Government House statement issued Thursday, three representatives from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the National Institute of Standards and Technology came to the territory Aug. 6 and 7 to review the V.I. government's grant administration and financial management of the FirstNet State and Local Implementation Grant Program funds.

However, Michael Newman, a spokesman for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, said that no one in that agency was involved in this visit, and referred inquiries to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

The Daily News was unable to reach someone from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration on Thursday evening.

"We gave the federal team an overview of our vision and approach to the FirstNet mission, and they reviewed our financial records, processes and controls," Bureau of Information Technology Director Reuben Molloy said in a prepared statement.

FirstNet is an independent U.S. government authority tasked by Congress with developing, building, operating and maintaining the first high-speed, nationwide wireless broadband network dedicated to public safety. The goal is to develop a single, interoperable platform for emergency and daily public safety communication.

The territory received a $515,682 federal grant a year ago for planning.

The representatives visiting the territory also interviewed V.I. Police Department Management Information Systems Director Kareem Christian; V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency Director Elton Lewis; and viNGN President and chief executive officer Larry Kupfer, who are partners in the grant.

"I believe they came away satisfied and now we are just awaiting their official report," Molloy said. Molloy also told The Daily News that the feedback from the federal grantor was positive.

It was not clear how soon the report would be forthcoming.

With the grant funding in two different phases, federal officials on the visit clarified when - during which phase - grant funding can be used for certain items, Molloy said.

The goal of the three-year grant is to fund the territory's efforts to provide FirstNet with the information needed to produce a business plan for the territory's participation in the nationwide public safety wireless network.

The business plan will then be presented to the governor for a decision to opt-in or opt-out.

Opting-in means that the federal government would have full responsibility for implementing the public safety broadband network, while opting-out means that the territory still would be required to participate in the network but would take full responsibility for implementing the network with some financial assistance from the federal government.

The territory is in phase one of the grant, which requires it to establish governance, participate in FirstNet-related workshops, perform outreach and prepare for an initial consultation visit, according to Molloy.

Phase two involves data collection to determine the existing public safety and broadband assets.

"We're in the embryo stages," Molloy said of developing the nationwide network. "It's going to take about eight to 10 years to establish, but if we don't do what we're doing now, we won't be prepared to participate in it."

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