After a three-year competitive bid process, the state Department of Management Services (DMS) has announced its intention to give Motorola Solutions a contract to build Florida's next-generation Statewide Law Enfocement Radio System.
The conversion from the old radio system to the new P25 system creates the ability for law enforcement and first responders to talk to each other directly and seamlessly, even across state lines. It is one of the largest contracts the state has to award. It will take at least the next three years to complete, according to a timeline DMS set in 2014.
Motorola had received the highest technical scores when DMS reviewed the bids on Thursday, March 1, 2018, the agency said.
Chantal Montsion, North American media relations manager for Motorola Solutions called the Florida contract "a vote of confidence."
"Florida’s selection of Motorola Solutions to build a new statewide public safety radio system is a vote of confidence in our decades of successfully building mission-critical communications solutions throughout the state and nation," Montsion told Sunshine State News. "Motorola Solutions is thrilled at the opportunity to work with the State of Florida and eager to deliver state-of-the-art interoperable communications to the state’s first responders and the people they protect throughout Florida."
Nevertheless, the award didn't sit well with the other major bidder and incumbent, Harris Corp. of Melbourne, the runner-up.
As a result, on March 20, Harris declared in an article published in Urgent Communications that it will protest DMS's decision to award the P25 contract to Motorola. In fact, Harris now has filed its official protest.
Max Green, vice president of sales for Harris Public Safety and Professional Communications (PSPC), told Urgent Communications Florida will embark on a “lengthy process” to review the merits of the Harris filing. It's a process that could result in further delay to replace the aging system.
On the one hand, it's understandable that Harris would want to appeal. The contract is huge. And Harris has been the State of Florida's law enforcement radio system provider for more than a decade. Its 20-year contract with the state, signed when the company's communications branch was known as M/A-COM, is scheduled to expire in 2021.
But this is incredibly bad timing for Harris, coming as it does on the heels of the spanking the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania gave the company last year, literally sending it packing. In fact, the humiliation hasn't ended.
And guess who the Keystone State turned to to take Harris' place? Motorola Solutions.
Motorola has been selected as the new vendor for a replacement P25 system in Pennsylvania. It is already operational in four counties and by the end of June 2018, will be up and running in eight additional counties.
Wouldn't you have thought the company might realize this kind of report would damage Harris' argument that it should have won the bid?
I wrote about the Pennsylvania experience, incidentally, more than a year ago, in the March 6, 2017 edition of Sunshine State News.
Contracts for statewide radio systems in Pennsylvania and Florida were both awarded during the same time frame in the late 1990s.
Both were proprietary Harris technologies, meaning they didn't meet what is now the U.S. Nationwide P25 Digital Communications Standard most law enforcement users operate on.
The proprietary OpenSky System, Pennsylvania’s public safety radio communications system, is called PA-STARNet.
The proprietary Florida system is called Statewide Law Enforcement Radio System (SLERS) and is based on Harris’ Enhanced Digital Access System (EDACS) invented in the mid 1980s.
It's true, Harris' system has served Florida for the past 15 years through a variety of emergency situations, including 11 hurricanes. But there's enough institutional memory around state offices to remember it encountered major delays to get up and running, ultimately taking 10 years, half of its total contract period, to gain acceptance by the State of Florida.
In Pennsylvania, officials claim it's nothing short of a total disaster.
Last year Pennsylvania watchdog weekly The Caucus presented an exhaustive report, results of a four-month study detailing the story of a dysfunctional statewide radio network "which cost Keystone State taxpayers more than $800 million ..." And "it never fully worked."
According to public documents and dozens of interviews, "It was based on a contract run amok and ranks as one of the longest-running boondoggles in modern Pennsylvania history."
Harris was found to have “Failed to Comply” in several areas of work required by the contract, including --
Tower inspection and maintenance
HVAC preventative maintenance and services
Shelter inspection and maintenance
Excessive billing for side marker lighting, repairs not performed
Investigative reporters Brad Bumsted and Paula Knudsen wrote in the first part of their cover story, on Feb. 21, 2017, that several top state officials during the contract's tenure had ties to Harris Corp., which had acquired M/A-COM, the original contractor, in 2009.
Initial funding of $179 million for the radio system, to be used by state law enforcement and local agencies, was approved in 1996. But the report said over two decades, because of inadequate legislative oversight, a contractor that "ran the show" and proprietary equipment manufactured by Harris Corp. that made some parts useless and expensive to replace, it ballooned into a black check.
And the saga never seems to end for the Harris OpenSky System, which is still in the news.
During a Pennsylvania Senate Committee March 26, State police Major Diane Stackhouse described the manhunt for convicted cop killer Eric Frein, who killed one state trooper and wounded another in a 2014 ambush outside the state police barracks in the Pocono Mountains. She called OpenSky "worthless."
After a week into the 48-day manhunt of coping with the shortcomings of Harris' system, said Robert Barnham, director of the Statewide Radio Network Division, Motorola was called in and within a matter of days, set up two VHS sites to provide the reliability and interoperability that was needed.
"We dispatched hundreds of troopers and they are looking in the woods for Frein," said Stackhouse. "Well, the OpenSky portable radios would blink and beep -- this is a software problem -- blink and beep and created an officer safety issue," she told senators. "It was disturbing to me that that was happening and they can't disable it and it's been a problem since the beginning."
However, a Harris spokesperson told Sunshine State News on Monday she has no doubt about the company's service and quality. “As a long-standing supplier to the Commonwealth of PA, Harris stands by its work and will continue to work with the state to resolve issues," said Natalie Ciao.
"It is important to realize all systems are complex and every system has its challenges, including our competitor’s systems. Perhaps a better point of reference would be Harris’ track record versus our competitor's in the State of Florida. After winning the original SLERS bid, our competitor did not deliver on its promises which forced the state to void the contract and reopen the bidding process," Ciao continued. "The state then chose Harris who has successfully operated the SLERS system for the past 18 years.”
However, in truth, overcoming Pennsylvania will be a tough nut to crack for Harris to impress Florida officials. Consider: Keystone State leaders are calling for an audit of the OpenSky system because of the high cost and consistent communications system failures. Also, Pennsylvania has begun suspension and debarment proceedings to keep Harris from bidding on future projects, according to state Sen. Randy Vulakovich, and state Sen. Scott Martin has suggested opening a criminal investigation.
Contract delays are almost always costly. And putting state-of-the-art radios on hold will only make life more dangerous for law enforcement personnel and first responders. Harris should rethink its chances and walk back its decision to protest the contract.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith