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Joe Wassel named as FirstNet Authority CEO

U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) technology veteran Joe Wassel today was named the new executive director (CEO) of the FirstNet Authority, giving the organization charged with overseeing the nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN) a permanent CEO for the first time in almost 10 months.

“After conducting a thorough search, the FirstNet Authority Board is pleased to welcome Joe Wassel as our new Executive Director,” FirstNet Authority Board Chair Stephen Benjamin said in a prepared statement.

“The FirstNet Authority has built a strong foundation for the nationwide public-safety broadband network. Now, as we embark on a new phase in FirstNet’s growth, Joe’s leadership and passion for innovation will help us build upon that foundation and prioritize the emerging needs of our nation’s first responders.”

During his 34-year career, Wassel has overseen global technology and communications systems for the DoD, most recently serving as executive for the Cyberspace Operations Directorate in the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA). Previously, he worked for four secretaries of defense as Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Communications, and he served as Deputy Chief Information Officer for the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Wassel also was founder and chair of the DoD’s Global Public Safety Communications Working Group, which was tasked with ensuring the DoD’s 150,000-plus first responders—including those providing police, fire and EMS services—“had access to reliable, next-generation communications, including the FirstNet network,” according to a FirstNet Authority press release.

Wassel will begin his tenure as FirstNet Authority CEO on Monday, according to a FirstNet Authority spokesperson. Lisa Casias—the organization’s acting CEO for the last 10 months– will return to her previous role as FirstNet Authority deputy CEO. Casias publicly said she did not pursue the permanent CEO job after the departure of former CEO Ed Parkinson last spring.

Wassel’s appointment comes during a time of transition within the FirstNet Authority’s leadership ranks. In addition to a new CEO to head the organization’s staff, there will be a leadership change on the FirstNet Authority board. Benjamin will continue to chair the FirstNet Authority board for the rest of this month, but he will begin serving in his new role within the Biden administration in April.

Unless a new FirstNet Authority board chair is named in the interim, Vice Chair Richard Carrizzo would assume the board chair’s duties. Carrizzo—chief of the Southern Platte Fire Protection District in Kansas City—expressed support for Wassel as CEO.

“Joe is the right leader for the next phase of FirstNet,” Carrizzo said in a prepared statement. “He has the experience and forward-thinking vision to lead the organization, bring people together, and deliver the best, most reliable network for public safety. Joe’s proven track record with network operations–and his expertise in cybersecurity, resiliency, and public safety communications—make him uniquely qualified to drive the future of FirstNet.”

As head of the FirstNet Authority, Wassel main task will be directing the organization staff’s efforts to oversee the development of the NPSBN by contractor AT&T. While the initial five-year buildout of the FirstNet system is almost complete, the FirstNet Authority must verify that the work is done properly and will oversee future maintenance/enhancement efforts for the network during the next two decades.

Jim Bugel, president of AT&T’s FirstNet team, applauded the selection of Wassel as the FirstNet Authority’s CEO.

“I am pleased Joe Wassel is joining the FirstNet Authority and the statutory mission to provide our nation’s first responders with the most advanced public-safety network in the world,” Bugel said in a prepared statement. “His tenure within the public-safety community to advance mission-centric communications—spanning next-gen 911, cybersecurity and network resiliency—as well as his service defending our country as an officer in the U.S. Air Force and within the Department of Defense, uniquely positions him to ensure our first responders’ needs are met.

“All of us at AT&T look forward to our continued partnership with him and his team at the FirstNet Authority.”

Wassel will be the fourth person to fill the permanent role atop the FirstNet Authority’s organizational chart, following Bill D’Agostino (when the position was titled as general manager), Mike Poth and Parkinson.

D’Agostino was appointed as general manager in April 2013, but the announcement quickly was overshadowed. During D’Agostino’s initial board meeting that month, Paul Fitzgerald—then a FirstNet Authority board member and sheriff of Story County, Iowa—alleged that the FirstNet board was not acting appropriately in a rant that dominated the public perception of the organization during its early years.

Poth became FirstNet Authority CEO in 2015 and led the organization as the RFP to build the nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN) was released in January 2016. He left the FirstNet Authority in the fall of 2018, after AT&T was selected as the NPSBN contractor and all 56 U.S. states and territories declined an opt-out option to let AT&T build the FirstNet system within their jurisdictions.

Parkinson was announced as the FirstNet Authority’s permanent CEO in March 2020 after being named acting CEO in October 2018 and later serving as acting co-CEO with FirstNet Authority CTO Jeff Bratcher for several months. Urgentcomm

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