I'm not a psychic, but I predicted in a story in May 2014 that Harris Corporation of Melbourne would attempt an end-run around a competitive bid process for a new contract for local and state law enforcement radios. And sure enough, that's what the Melbourne company did. And its less-than-honest methods got found out.
So, it pleased me to learn the House and Senate couldn't agree on the $7 million budget allocation Harris had pushed for; and on Sunday the request was pronounced dead. Left off of the budget.
It means the competitive-bid process to upgrade local and state law enforcement radios is alive and well. It will go on as it was planned in a 2014 Joint Task Force Board meeting on the new radio system. That's new radios and towers for seamless communication between some 4,000 first responders, law enforcement and emergency personnel.
Virtually everybody affected, from the governor to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to the Fish and Wildlife Commission, have said -- many in testimony before the joint committee dealing with the upgrade -- they want to see competitive bids on this project. They have not said it's important to bypass the process for 5 percent, 10 percent, any percent of the radio order before the project goes out for bid.
Which is exactly what Harris wanted: The company said some agencies were complaining they didn't want to wait for an upgrade, that they need the radios now. Thus the House's budget request for $7 million to pay for 10 percent of the upgraded radios in an early purchase.
To the winning bidder, the new contract will be worth some $500 million over a 10- to 15-year period. It is one of the state's largest and most valuable. So it certainly is understandable that Harris, the current vendor -- with its contract ending in 2021 -- would want to cut out any competition for a prize like SLERS (Statewide Law Enforcement Radio System) .
Trouble is, as soon as legislators in the House began pushing Harris' agenda, the cat was out of the bag. “The House’s position is that we want to make sure our law enforcement has access to the best technology to keep themselves safe and the citizens of the state of Florida safe,” explained Rep. Jeanette Nunez, R-Miami, chairwoman of the House General Government Appropriations Subcommittee. Ah, yes, but no agency -- not even one -- had asked for an early upgrade.
It turned into just another issue that was driving a wedge between the House and Senate.
Because over in the Senate, Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, was calling Harris' argument poppycock. "The agencies are not clamoring for these radios," said Hays. "We need to wait and let the process work out and then whoever wins that contract can do a comprehensive phaseout of the old radios."
Said Hays, “This is the vendor who wants these radios to be sold to the state, and that’s why we’re saying ‘No, we don’t need the radios right now.’ This is a huge contract that is about to be renegotiated and it is going to be competitively procured ..."
Not everybody in the House favored the early upgraded radios. Read Rep. Charles Van Zant's letter in the attachment below, in which he asks where the request for the $7 million budget allocation came from, and the reply below it from Mark Perez, chairman of the Joint Task Force dealing with the radios. Perez claims "the proposed $7 million FY 17-17 for Statewide Law Enforcement Radio System (SLERS) radio inventory refresh was not presented or discussed during any Joint Task Force Board meetings in 2015. In fact, as JTF chairman, I was just recently made aware of the request."
The SLERS 2014 Joint Task Force’s Strategic Plan is also attached below. Look at page 9. The report reads, “SLERS state agencies and additional subscribers are advised to purchase adequate stock of EDACS equipment to meet their needs for the period leading up to the completion of the new system …” Considering law enforcement agencies didn't request the radios, it’s clear the only party that needed the buy right now was Harris.
Five companies working in the Sunshine State are qualified to put together the P25 radio upgrade, as it is known. From the start, this has been an opportunity for Florida's conservative Legislature to showcase its free-market principles. It is a project absolutely crucial to public safety in the third largest state in the nation. And it is right and proper that the House and Senate threw this $7 million fish back.
Sunshine State News is neither for nor against the Harris Corporation as the ultimate contract winner. The only skin we have in the game is wanting to keep the process open to all parties that qualify to compete for such a large and important contract. We wrote an editorial to that end in 2015.
It is gratifying to hear many influential organizations in the state agree.
Before Sunday's "decision" to go nowhere with the $7 million budget allocation, Brewster Bevis, senior vice president of state and federal affairs for Associated Industries of Florida, said this: “As outlined in our 2016 Legislative Agenda, AIF supports openness and competitiveness in state contracting. On its face, this budget proposal appears to favor one vendor over another because it calls for buying the same type of P25 radios that the state is seeking to buy in the next SLERS contract.”
A bid procurement was called for and, thankfully, a bid procurement will happen. The vendor's sneak attack, however understandable, was basically less than honest. The House and Senate's failure to cooperate turned into a win for Florida taxpayers.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith