Motorola Solutions asks Florida governor to veto SLERS tower plans, shrink scope of new radio purchase
Motorola Solutions has asked Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to veto tower-leasing line items in the proposed state budget and reduce the number of replacement radios provided to agencies using the Statewide Law Enforcement Radio System (SLERS), describing the budget’s no-bid P25 award to L3Harris as “dangerous” to first responders.
Motorola Solutions Chairman and CEO Greg Brown made the requests in a letter to DeSantis that is dated May 10. In the letter that became public late last week, Brown reiterated Motorola Solutions’ opposition to the legislative budget’s proposal to award L3Harris a 15-year contract to upgrade SLERS to P25 technology without a bid, but the letter specifies the actions Motorola Solutions would like DeSantis—who has line-item veto power on the budget—to take.
DeSantis simply signing the state budget with all the SLERS-related items intact would not be good for the state of Florida, according to Brown.
“Signing the budget with line items and provisos that were quietly negotiated between the incumbent vendor and the legislature will result in a bad deal for taxpayers and a dangerous situation for Florida’s first responders,” Brown states in the letter.
“Motorola Solutions asks that you again make the right decision for your citizens by vetoing specific line items in the FY 21-22 budget that gift a massive, long-term contract for the Statewide Law Enforcement Radio System (SLERS) to the incumbent vendor without a competitive procurement process and without any analysis of whether it is the best system for Florida’s first responders.”
Under the budget approved by the Florida Legislature, the “current operator” of SLERS—L3Harris, which currently provide statewide LMR voice capabilities to Florida agencies using aging EDACS technology—would receive a 15-year contract to execute the SLERS P25 upgrade and continue providing service. Legislative language in budget describes the need for “emergency action,” an apparent acknowledgement to the reality that the current SLERS contract with L3 Harris expires on June 30—a fact Brown referenced in his letter to DeSantis.
“Motorola Solutions is a reasonable company and understands that a veto of all SLERS appropriations would leave first responders without radio service,” Brown states in the letter.
With this in mind, Brown did not ask DeSantis to veto the legislative budget’s core proposal to award a 15-year deal to L3Harris to maintain existing service and upgrade SLERS to P25 for $19 million per year. However, Brown called on the governor to veto proposed budget line items associated with tower leases that shift “a heavy cost and management burden for third-party radio-tower leases to the state,” according to the letter.
“Under those line items and associated provisos, the state will assume the cost, responsibility and liability for leasing and managing third-party radio towers at a cost of $187.5 million or more ($12.5 million/year during the 15-year contract) for access to towers that are currently part of the annual contract,” Brown’s letter states. “This cost and administrative burden should remain with the system operator who is already paid to manage it.”
Brown also asked DeSantis to take action on another SLERS-related budget item included in the legislative budget—$55 million for replacement radios. In this case, Motorola Solutions is not seeking a veto from the governor but a directive to conduct a competitive bid for about 76% of the radios.
“Under you own analysis and budget recommendation, only $13 million is needed for the replacement of outdated radios,” Brown states in the letter to DeSantis. “By contrast, the legislature included $55 million in the budget for the exclusive procurement of EDACS/P25 radios, which are outdated and available only through the incumbent provider. The legislature’s appropriation would saddle law enforcement with outdated technology for many years. “Our recommendation is not to veto section 121 of the GAA but direct DMS to first procure only radios that are not repairable under the existing contract up to your $13 million initial recommendation, and to further reserve the remainder for a competitive procurement of more advanced P25/Phase 2 FirstNet-certified radios.”
The reason the legislative action for a P25 upgrade to SLERS was deemed necessary by many is that Motorola Solutions did not agree to a contract with the state after being selected in the procurement phase and surviving a lengthy protest from L3Harris. 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.
Brown’s letter indicates that Motorola Solutions would have signed that deal, if the contract terms were similar to those that L3Harris would get if the legislative budget is enacted.
“Florida’s citizens and first responders deserve better and are best served by the fair and competitive process under the current DMS ITN and not by wasteful legislative handouts,” according to Brown’s letter. “As a point of comparison, Motorola Solutions—the undisputed market leader—would provide a new, state-of-the-art P25 system and radios for substantially less than the $640 million the legislature is allotting to the no-bid maintenance and upgrade of SLERS.
“To illustrate this point, Motorola Solutions was approximately $300 million lower cost than the incumbent when it won the last competitive bid and, had the contract included the same payment terms as the current budget, we would be well on the way to completion of a next-generation P25 system for Florida.”
But a buildout by Motorola Solutions did not happen, and the failure of those contract negotiations with the state led to the initiation of a second procurement earlier this year. Vendor bids in the second procurement initially were due on May 11, but DMS earlier this month changed the bid deadline to an indefinite to-be-determined date after the legislative budget items were released.
Motorola Solutions believes this second procurement process to select a vendor to provide a statewide P25 network should be allowed to be completed, Brown said in his letter to DeSantis. The letter does not ask DeSantis to veto the core P25-network items in the budget, but Brown indicates that Motorola Solutions may consider pursuing other measures in an effort to change the effective SLERS outcome proposed in the legislative budget proposal.
“The legislature’s actions to infringe on your executive power and to circumvent an active procurement for the sole benefit of a single vendor set a dangerous precedent,” Brown’s letter states. “Entering into a contract of this size and magnitude through legislative fiat has never occurred during an open procurement and should not be approved, especially given the operational delays, substandard coverage and technical issues that have plagued the incumbent operator.
“The State of Florida has always supported a very deliberate process for major contract decisions that include development of a business case to support good decision making. Toward that end, the state hired an outside, objective expert last year and has since paid it more than $1 million to analyze the situation, consider alternatives, formulate recommendations and support the current ITN. All of that effort and expenditure of taxpayer dollars has been undermined at the last minute via legislative action.
“The selection of mission-critical communications networks and devices is a matter of public safety, and we are evaluating all available options in the interest of Florida’s first responders and citizens.”
During last week’s SLERS Joint Task Force (JTF) meeting, Patrick Gillespie—deputy secretary of business operations for the Florida Department of Management Services (DMS)—outlined all SLERS-related items in the budget approved by state lawmakers.
“We received roughly $950,000 for logging recorders, which I know was a request from Highway Patrol,” Gillespie said during the JTF meeting. “We continued to receive funding for the Florida Interoperability Network [FIN], as well as the mutual-aid buildout, so we have those to continue.
“We received funding for operations and maintenance of the system for a 15-year period, as well as a separate line item of funding for tower leases for the SLERS system. In addition, the Legislature appropriated roughly $54.5 million for a total of more than 12,600 radios—both portable and mobile—as well as funding to upgrade the system to P25 Phase 2.”
All of these items are in the legislative budget, but none of them will be enacted until DeSantis signs the budget, and there is no contract between the state and L3Harris yet. If DeSantis took the actions requested by Motorola Solutions in Brown’s letter, it is unclear whether L3Harris would be willing to sign a contract without all of the provisions outlined in the budget.
L3Harris declined an opportunity to comment for this article.
During the JTF board meeting, members noted the importance of DMS and SLERS user agencies taking all measures necessary to ensure that the distribution and deployment of the new radios identified in the legislative budget occurs as quickly as possible. While deploying more than 12,600 radios promises to be a significant task, JTF board members did not discuss what agencies would have to do if a deal with L3Harris was not finalized when the current contract with L3Harris expires on June 30.