Florida governor approves budget with no-bid P25 funding earmarked for L3Harris
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis yesterday signed the $100 billion budget for the state that includes funding for L3Harris Technologies to upgrade the Statewide Law Enforcement Radio System (SLERS) to P25 technology and enable interoperability with the FirstNet nationwide public-safety broadband system (NPSBN).
DeSantis used his line-item veto power to nix several items from the budget approved by the Florida legislature, but none of those included the SLERS-related language that Greg Brown—CEO of L3Harris rival Motorola Solutions—requested be removed from the state budget, based on a publicly available listing of vetoed items.
With the budget approved, representatives for the Florida Department of Management Services (DMS) and L3Harris now can prepare a final contract based on the language included in the state budget. The budget calls for a 15-year deal that will ensure the continuation of the existing SLERS—the Florida system built on aging EDACS technology and maintained by L3Harris—and the upgrade to the P25 Phase 2 standard.
L3Harris provided the following statement to IWCE’s Urgent Communications.
“L3Harris Technologies commends Governor Ron DeSantis, Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls for supporting Florida’s Fiscal Year 2021-2022 budget today, which includes funding to maintain and upgrade the Statewide Law Enforcement Radio System (SLERS), demonstrating their support for first responders,” L3Harris said in the prepared statement
In a press release issued yesterday, DMS noted that the new state budget—one that becomes effective on July 1—includes an “investment in critical statewide public-safety communication systems” but did not provide any other details about the SLERS language in the budget.
Florida lawmakers awarded the no-bid contract to L3Harris—referenced as “the entity that was operating the statewide radio communications system”—at the end of April, during the final week of this year’s legislative session. Legislators took the unusual measure while citing the need for “emergency action,” as existing SLERS contract with L3Harris is due to expire on June 30.
Assuming a contract with L3Harris can be finalized, the legislative action will bring much-wanted certainty to the SLERS, the future of which has been in limbo for several years. Representatives of first-responder agencies have expressed concerns during the past year that they could be faced with the prospect of having old EDACS radios in the and not being sure that a maintenance agreement would be in place.
Florida’s new budget calls for $55 million to be spent on new EDACS/P25 radios that are available only from L3Harris. Motorola Solutions did not seek a veto from the governor on the item, but it did ask that the governor issue a directive to conduct a competitive bid for about 76% of the radios. No sources or media reports indicated the DeSantis position on the matter.
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 recent letter to DeSantis indicates that Motorola Solutions would have signed that contract offer, if those terms had been similar to those that L3Harris is expected to get via the legislative budget language.
Earlier this year, Florida Department of Management Services (DMS) officials initiated a procurement to select a vendor to build the SLERS-2 P25 system, but many were concerned that the bidding process would fail to yield a system in a timely manner—the result of the previous SLERS-2 procurement and contract cycle. Presumably with this in mind, lawmakers opted to forego a procurement and have incumbent SLERS vendor L3Harris build the network, as explained in the budget language.
“In recognition of the critical nature of the statewide law-enforcement radio communications system, the Legislature finds that there is an immediate danger to the public health, safety, and welfare, and that it is in the best interest of the state to continue partnering with the system’s current operator,” the budget states. “The Legislature finds that continuity of coverage is critical to supporting law enforcement, first responders, and other public-safety users. The potential for a loss in coverage or a lack of interoperability between users requires emergency action and is a serious concern for officers’ safety and their ability to communicate and respond to various disasters and events.
“The department [DMS] … shall enter into a 15-year contract with the entity that was operating the statewide radio communications system on January 1, 2021. The contract must include:
“1. The purchase of radios;
“2. The upgrade to the Project 25 communications standard;
“3. Increased system capacity and enhanced coverage for system users;
“4. Operations, maintenance, and support at a fixed annual rate;
“5. The conveyance of communications towers to the department; and
“6. The assignment of communications tower leases to the department.”
DMS has not made an announcement about the P25 bidding to date, but all sources have acknowledged that it is expected that the procurement process—already delayed indefinitely, after bids originally were going to be due on May 11—would be abandoned after a contract with L3Harris is finalized.
By naming L3Harris as the P25 vendor via the budget process, the state could save valuable time in getting the P25 system built and operational. In addition to not having to receive and evaluate bids, this approach would prevent a lengthy protest period that would delay the beginning of construction.
According to the SLERS P25 business case prepared last year by Federal Engineering, the best-case-scenario timeline for a procured P25 system calls for it to be fully operational during the latter half of 2026—a timetable that does not include delays for protests or other reasons. Many sources within Florida have questioned whether the existing SLERS—the last EDACS EA system in world, according to L3Harris—could be maintained to provide effective mission-critical voice communications for that long.
In addition to the P25 language, the Florida state budget stipulates that the upgraded LMR system must be interoperable with FirstNet, the public-safety broadband system that AT&T is building as part of a 25-year contract with the FirstNet Authority. Industry sources believe this is the first time that FirstNet interoperability has been required as part of a legislative mandate.