Harris may not have ‘won’ the day in statewide police radios budget deal

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The resolution of a recent legislative food fight in this year’s budget ended with an incumbent law enforcement radios vendor winning $7 million in state dollars to purchase new equipment only they manufacture. With this finalized, Harris Corporation‘s effort to entrench itself in the state law enforcement radio system may not have been as successful as it appears at first glance.

The Brevard County-based telecommunications firm was able to secure state dollars to replace existing police radio systems — a vendor-driven move to essentially “upsell” the state equipment not requested by law enforcement agencies in the first place.

However,  upon further examination, Harris may not have “won” the day in its quest to entrench itself as Florida’s long-term radio partner and avoid a looming competitive bidding process after all.

State Sen. Jack Latvala last week expressed concern that the request, if granted, was tantamount to a “back door extension” of the contract.

The move does indeed raise questions about transparency, but it may not have bought Harris as much of an advantage as it planned.

The $7 million line item, assuming it is not axed by Gov. Rick Scott‘s veto pen, is only a small percentage of Harris’ original $84 million request and appears to send the message that this Republican-led Legislature supports free-market principles of competition to drive down costs and to increase quality. In response, the Legislature offered proviso language with significant strings attached.

According to the proviso language, funds for the radio purchase will be placed in reserve and disbursed at the discretion of the of the Department of Management Services and its Joint Task Force on State Law Enforcement Radios. As recently as March, the Joint Task Force recommended a competitive procurement process to upgrade the state’s radio infrastructure, something Harris apparently sought to circumvent by embedding more funding for itself in the state budget.

The budget item also includes $800,000 for DMS to prepare for a competitive procurement process set to go ahead when the current contract expires in 2021 regardless of the replenished stock of radios. Harris reportedly fought that move to no avail.

Harris also reportedly offered to upgrade existing radio towers at no cost, but the Legislature did not take it up. That signals a desire to go ahead with the current plan to shop around for new technology from other vendors, such as Motorola Solutions and Airbus, both of which are expected to make bids when the request for competitive proposals begins.

In any case, this fascinating intra-industry battle is clearly far from over. The spirit of competitiveness won out in this year’s budget, and looks likely to continue to define the process despite the best efforts of those on the inside track.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.