Florida prepares for new statewide P25 bid while seeking extension with L3Harris
State of Florida officials expect to publish the first procurement document for a new Statewide Law Enforcement Radio System (SLERS-2) in the near future as the state continues negotiations with L3Harris to extend the existing SLERS contract that is scheduled to expire this summer.
Matt Matney, public safety bureau chief for the Florida Department of Management Services (DMS) division of state technology, provided a brief update about both SLERS initiatives last week during a meeting of the SLERS Joint Task Force Technical Committee.
“The business case [for SLERS-2] has been completed and been released,” Matney said during the committee meeting, which was conducted via a conference call. “The SLERS-2 ITN [Invitation to Negotiate] is being developed for release as soon as possible.
“Talks with L3Harris are continuing regarding a contract renewal [of the existing SLERS agreement].”
Matney reiterated that agencies will continue to be able to use SLERS after the current L3Harris expires on June 30. However, representatives of agencies that depend on SLERS have expressed some concern about the situation, noting that the lack of a new contract with L3Harris makes it difficult for them to make replacement and maintenance plans for aging radio equipment.
“It’s kind of hard to go back and change now, but—if there are other opportunities in the future to correct this—I’d like to go on record,” committee Chairman Bill Skukowski said during the meeting. “I feel that the stakeholders—those being agencies on this committee—having more input in regard to [decisions] like the extension of the contract [would be beneficial].
“There’s not a lot we can do about it now. But if there are opportunities moving forward, I think that’s going to be an important element.”
Florida issuing an Invitation to Negotiate (ITN) procurement document—generally considered to be a more flexible approach than a Request for Proposal (RFP) or a Request for Quote (RFQ)—would not be a surprise, as the state issued an ITN during its first SLERS-2 procurement effort. That procurement resulted in the selection of Motorola Solutions to build the proposed statewide P25 Phase II system for SLERS-2, but the state and Motorola Solutions failed to reach a contract agreement.
As a result, renewing the current contract with L3Harris to continue providing the existing SLERS—the trusted statewide land-mobile-radio system that uses an aging EDACS technology—is a priority for Florida officials. The current SLERS contract is set to expire in less than five months, on June 30.
Florida SLERS is the last remaining system that uses EDACS extended addressing (EDACS EA), according to L3Harris information provided in response to an inquiry from IWCE’s Urgent Communications. Although L3Harris announced plans to halt support most EDACS networks as of December 2017, company officials have indicated that support for the Florida SLERS could be extended, but they have not indicated exactly how long.
This issue likely will be critical, because the recently released SLERS-2 business case—prepared by the Federal Engineering consulting firm—indicates that the proposed P25 network would not be fully operational statewide until the latter half of 2026. Under this best-case scenario, the SLERS-2 business case calls for the ITN to be released in May, vendor proposals would be due in September, the vendor would be selected by the end of the year, and the contract would be awarded in June 2022.
Such a procurement timeline would represent a significant acceleration compared to Florida’s previous attempt to procure SLERS-2. In that effort, the state issued its ITN in October 2016 and selected Motorola Solutions’ $687.8 million bid as the winning offer in March 2018. This selection was upheld through a lengthy protest from L3Harris that concluded in 2019, which appeared to clear the way for Motorola Solutions to build SLERS-2.
But that did not happen. In January 2020, DMS announced 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”—language reiterated in today’s statement from DMS.
A $2.4 million item in the Florida state budget released last year provides some guidance about the state’s current vision for SLERS-2.
“[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—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.
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.
While the budget language calls on the state to resolve the tower issue, DMS officials have given no indication that they are willing to remove the “termination for convenience” clause from the upcoming procurement.
If such issues can be resolved, the Florida SLERS-2 project would be a significant contract—by far the largest potential LMR contract in the U.S., according to industry sources. Depending on the state’s chosen business model, the SLERS-2 vendor could earn between $544 million and $816 million during the first 10 years of the deal, according to the Federal Engineering business case.
Both models outlined in the Federal Engineering business case would require additional funding that must be approved by the Florida Legislature. State lawmakers are schedule to convene on March 2, with this year’s session set to end on April 30.
In addition to representatives from L3Harris and Federal Engineering, representatives from commercial wireless carriers AT&T and Verizon also announced their attendance at the committee meeting, although none of them spoke about the SLERS-2 procurement.