Florida continues work toward new statewide procurement, extension of current system
Early progress is being made to procure a new Statewide Law Enforcement Radio System (SLERS) in Florida, while state officials continue to talk with current SLERS vendor L3Harris about extending the existing SLERS contract that is scheduled to expire in a little more than nine months.
Patrick Gillespie, deputy secretary of business operations for Florida Department of Management Services (DMS), this week told board members of the Florida Joint Task Force—the state entity that provides advice about SLERS—that representatives of vendor Federal Engineering have met with state agencies that use SLERS to get their input on the new system, known as SLERS II.
“Right now, we are on track—for the October or November timeframe—to have our business case complete,” Gillespie said during the meeting, which was webcast. “We hope that will inform us on the health of the system, the future needs of the system, and just recommendations on a path forward there.
“The vendor’s also continuing to work on the procurement documents, scope of work and other deliverables related to that. That’s going to take into the early part of next year.”
This effort marks the second time that the state of Florida has attempted to select a vendor to build SLERS II. Previously, DMS selected Motorola Solutions as its vendor after a lengthy procurement process to build a statewide P25 Phase II system for SLERS. However, DMS announced in January that it ended talks with Motorola Solutions after the LMR giant declined to sign a contract based on the terms of its bid, according to a state official.
At the time, Florida DMS Secretary Jonathan Satter wrote in a letter to Motorola Solutions that Florida DMS would “move toward the new procurement of a next-generation system.” To date, Florida DMS has not responded to multiple inquiries from IWCE’s Urgent Communications seeking clarification about what technology would be used in a “next-generation system.”
However, the description in the $2.4 million state budget item provides some guidance about the state’s current vision for SLERS II.
“[DMS] must release a competitive procurement and, thereafter, issue an award for the replacement of the Statewide Law Enforcement Radio System,” according to the budget item. “At a minimum, future services must utilize the industry-standard Project 25 Phase II delivery methodology. The procurement must also consider emerging technologies to enhance interoperability, promote public safety, improve coverage and enhance audio clarity.”
This budget item also calls on DMS to pursue a resolution to a dispute surrounding access to towers owned by L3Harris. This tower issue was one of the problematic issues undermining the ability to reach a contract agreement with Motorola Solutions on a proposed SLERS upgrade to P25 Phase II technology, but the matter was not mentioned during this week’s meeting of the Florida Joint Task Force.
Although the tower dispute was a problem, most sources familiar with the failed Motorola Solutions talks indicated that biggest sticking point in the negotiations was a “termination for convenience” clause, which would let the state to back out of the potential 20-year deal whenever it wanted with little advance notice. All vendors seeking the P25 contract were required to accept this condition during the bidding process, but Motorola Solutions would not accept it as part of the contract with the state, according to a letter from Satter.
Such a “termination for convenience” clause is not new to LMR contracts—in fact, similar language is included in the existing SLERS deal with L3Harris—but most of those agreements were signed at a time when there was not any practical technological alternative to LMR that could provide reliable mission-critical voice communications, according to industry sources. Today, push-to-talk-over-cellular services through providers like FirstNet and Verizon are maturing quickly and could represent a viable alternative to LMR in the future, sources say.
In addition to taking steps to procure a new system, DMS officials are negotiating with L3Harris representatives to discuss the terms of an extension to the contract for the existing SLERS, which utilizes aging EDACS technology. The current SLERS deal is scheduled to expire on June 30, 2021, and agencies subscribing to SLERS need the system to continue operating until SLERS II becomes a reality.
“We continue to have discussions with L3Harris on renewal options, in accordance with proviso language,” Gillespie said. “We’re continuing to have those discussions and continuing to explore ensuring the continued operations and maintenance of the system moving forward.”
Col. Gene Spaulding, chairman of the Florida Joint Task Force board and director of the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP), said agencies using SLERS need information about the terms of an extension with L3Harris as soon as possible, so they can make key budget decisions and request appropriate funding from the state Legislature.
“Specifically for my agency, come July 1 of next year, we’re going to be in an issue in that renewal period window—if we are there—and we’re going to have some concerns with maintenance and stuff,” Spaulding said during the meeting. “We’re kind of in the dark now on whether we’re going to be able to renew the maintenance options or what the price points are going to be, and obviously we need to plan for that.”