Florida secures radio-system revenue for five years, agencies await clarity on statewide LMR
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation that calls for a five-year extension of an important revenue source for the State Law Enforcement Radio System (SLERS) while law-enforcement agencies await financial clarity about their L3Harris-run LMR communications from state lawmakers that are scheduled to end their session next week.
Florida state officials have stated multiple times that law-enforcement agencies subscribing to SLERS will be able to continue using the existing LMR system that uses aging EDACS technology and is run by L3Harris. However, the contract with L3Harris expires on June 30, and no extension of the agreement has been announced, although representatives for the state and L3Harris have been in negotiations for several months.
One issue in these negotiations was resolved yesterday, when Gov. DeSantis signed SB 2510, legislation that extends the assessment of a $3 surcharge that must be paid for all criminal offenses in the state through June 30, 2026, and is deposited into the SLERS Trust Fund of the Florida Department of Management Services (DMS). Prior to this extension—approved unanimously in both the state Senate and House—the $3 surcharge was scheduled to expire on July 1 this year.
With the $3 surcharge secured, state officials have the same revenue sources to support the SLERS system that they have for the past several years. Combined with a $1 surcharge attached from motor-vehicle licenses, this revenue has allowed DMS to pay Florida-based L3Harris about $20 million annually in recent years to operate and maintain the statewide radio network.
Assessments of this $3 surcharge on criminal offenses is expected to generate $42.3 million during the next 10 years, according to a business case prepared by Federal Engineering that was released late last year.
No SLERS-extension agreement has been reached yet, but a draft budget in the Senate proposes that $19 million be spent on the system during the upcoming fiscal year—a figure that is part of the negotiating process, according to Ben Albritton, chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Environment and General Government.
“In the state’s best interest and looking out for the taxpayers of the state, we felt like we needed to work on that pricing,” Albritton told reporters on April 17. “As part of that negotiating tool, what the Senate has the opportunity to do would be to scale back funding … to give them [L3Harris representatives] a sense that we’re serious about giving the taxpayers the best deal possible on those, while at the same time making sure that they’re keeping our law-enforcement officers connected in the face of a challenge—a hurricane or something like that.”
The fact that a SLERS extension agreement with L3Harris is not in place yet is not a surprise, as DMS officials previously have indicated that such a deal likely would not be finalized until after the Legislature ended its session—something that is scheduled to happen next Friday, April 30.
But the lack of an agreement has put several agencies that depend on the SLERS system to provide mission-critical voice communication in an awkward position of trying to make budget plans without knowing the actual terms of an extension with L3Harris—for example, whether maintenance of aging equipment will be part of the deal.
Col. Gene Spaulding, chair of the SLERS Joint Task Force, referenced the situation in letters he sent to House and Senate leaders early this month, noting that is critical for state lawmakers to fund requested new radios in the upcoming budget.
“Multiple agencies have mobile and portable radio replacement as part of their budget requests for the upcoming fiscal year,” Spaulding’s letters state. “Many of these radios are at end of life, meaning they frequently need repair and replacement of parts that are difficult to acquire or are no longer available.
“While recognizing the difficult budgetary decisions the Legislature must face this and every year, it is critical the Legislature consider the importance of properly funding the extension of the state’s current law-enforcement radio system and include the respective state agencies funding requests for radios. It would not be an exaggeration to assert that Florida’s first responders and the public will be at risk should they be required to go another year with obsolete equipment or without a fully functional and properly maintained radio system.”
While the most pressing need is a SLERS extension, Florida DMS officials are taking steps toward awarding a contract to build an updated version of SLERS, known as SLERS-2.
On Feb. 16, DMS officials released its Invitation to Negotiate (ITN), which represents the initial tangible step in the second effort to procure SLERS-2, a new statewide network that is expected to provide mission-critical communications via “P25 Phase 2 delivery methodology,” as well as integrate “with broadband network and push-to-talk services,” according to the ITN document.
Vendors are required to submit their bid by May 11, with the state negotiation team slated to recommend an award to a vendor on Nov. 9, the ITN states. The anticipated contract start date is Dec. 14, according to the procurement document.
According to the SLERS-2 business case prepared by Federal Engineering, the best-case-scenario timeline for SLERS-2 calls for the system to be operational during the latter half of 2026. Current revenue streams largely would be enough to cover the operational expenses of the first 10 years of SLERS-2 under an outsourced model that makes the vendor responsible for almost all aspects of the system, according to the business case.
However, the Legislature would have to find new sources of funding to cover the estimated $235.08 million in capital costs for the proposed P25 network, according to the Federal Engineering business case. In addition, the business case does not contemplate the notion that the existing SLERS revenue streams would be used to pay L3Harris for an extension of the current SLERS.
Overall, the first 10 years of SLERS-2 would cost the state $537.48 million, with ongoing operational costs averaging about $30 million per year when the 10-year period ends. If the state opts for a “hybrid-mostly outsourced” model in which the state would assume control of components such as the network operations center, the total estimated cost would be $814.69 million during the first 10 years, according to Federal Engineering.
Of course, this procurement is needed because the previous SLERS-2 procurement ended in January 2020, when Motorola Solutions—the selected vendor—could not agree on contract terms for the proposed P25 statewide system.
Bob Nave, senior vice president of research for Florida TaxWatch—an “independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit taxpayer research institute & government watchdog,” according to the organization’s website– said SLERS-2 is one of several large state-led IT procurements that has failed to deliver desired results.
“DMS began this procurement in 2016, almost five years before the first [SLERS] contract expires,” Nave said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “We are five years later, and we are no closer to having SLERS-2 than we were five years ago.”
To avoid a repeat of the problems encountered in the original SLERS-2 procurement, the state should change the procurement system, according to Nave.
“I think the answer there would be in an overhaul of the state’s procurement system,” he said. “Between the bid-protest provisions and some of the other requirements, we’ve got to take a look at what provisions need to be in contracts, what provisions need to be in place to support the implementation of these contracts.”
Indeed, the unsuccessful bid protest from L3Harris about the original SLERS-2 procurement took more than a year to resolve, which would have compressed the timetable that Motorola Solutions would have had, if it could have reached a contract agreement with the state.
Florida TaxWatch has not taken a position on the “termination for convenience” clause, which played a role in Motorola Solution deciding not to sign the contract offer based on its $687.8 million bid—although it was not the only factor, Nave said.
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 Florida DMS Secretary Jonathan Satter.
Nave acknowledged that there is risk involved for vendors that sign deals with a “termination for convenience” clause in them.
“There is the risk that the vendor could invest in equipment, towers and staff to put everything in place to operate SLERS, then a year or two into it, the state—for whatever reason—could choose to exercise that termination-for-convenience clause,” Nave said.
But simply removing the “termination for convenience” language would not provide a guarantee to vendors that they would be paid, Nave said.
“There’s another contract provision that says that every contract the state enters into includes a provision that basically says that the state’s performance and obligations under this contract are contingent upon an annual appropriation by the Legislature,” Nave said. “So, even if the termination-for-convenience language was taken out of the contract, the state still could end the contract early, just by not appropriating continuation money.”
This “termination for convenience” language was not included in the SLER-2 ITN that was issued. However, such a clause was not included in the 2016 ITN document for SLERS-2 either, so the possibility still exists that it could be a requirement for interested bidders in this SLERS-2 procurement.
In its recent report about the SLERS situation, Florida TaxWatch expressed support for the state negotiating an extension with L3Harris on the current statewide system
“We think the extension is in the best interest of everyone, especially given the premium on interoperability of those components and those radios,” Nave said. “We need to get that extension done to maintain the interoperability of the current system.”