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‘Backdoor extension’ of state radios contract at issue in budget talks

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As legislative budget chairs powwow to finalize the budget, unresolved items in the state’s general government budget silo have left the door open for a move by holders of a large state contract to tip the scales in favor of its renewal down the road.

A state panel under the Department of Management Services recommended a competitive bidding process back in January in order to procure an upgraded law enforcement radio system. The contract’s current vendor, Brevard County-based Harris Corp., recently argued before the Joint Task Force on State Agency Law Enforcement Communications

However, according to state Sen. Jack Latvala, the telecommunications firm is also engaged in budget maneuvering to secure some $84 million for new Harris-produced radios that would give it substantial leverage in the future negotiations.

“If I had my druthers, I’d zero it out,” Latvala told Florida Politics on the budget request. “It’s a backdoor way of extending the contract.”

House and Senate appropriations committee chairs recently agreed to final proviso language to ensure the state law enforcement radio system is competitively bid starting no sooner than June 30, 2016.  The only remaining issue left to be resolved is whether any funding for Harris’ unsolicited request for the state to buy radios is provided.

When asked about the status of funding for the Harris radio request following a budget conference meeting on Thursday, House Appropriations Committee Chair Richard Corcoran said the issue was “closed out.” However, as with many heated budget issues, it is not uncommon to see a late-hour addition of funding.

Harris denies they are trying to circumvent a competitive bidding process, despite the fact that the budget item was not placed by law enforcement, but rather by Harris. Latvala called the item “vendor-driven.”

Glenn Grab, Harris’ director of state and local government relations, offered the following on the subject:

“The state should not wait until 2021 to bring improvements to public safety,” he said, referring to the current end date of the contract.

“Harris’ [budget] offer delivers the benefit of advanced P25 technology today to SLERS users and leverages the existing network to save the state several hundred million dollars. Harris’ offer uses the existing contract, which will not foreclose future options or impact a competitive procurement.”

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at

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