A senior House of Representatives Democrat has called on FBI Director James Comey to once again rethink the bureau’s problem-plagued attempt to buy a new emergency radio system, contending its recent request for bids is so biased it “can be met by only one vendor” – industry colossus Motorola Solutions Inc.
“Simply put, the terms of the FBI’s bid solicitation for dual-band radios are inconsistent with the vision of Congress” for a network in which all two-way radios meeting voluntary industry standards can interact, Rep. Anna Eshoo of California said in a letter to Comey this week.
She did not name Motorola, but she clearly referred to procurements worth an estimated $335 million that are currently stalled because of formal protests by Motorola’s largest rival, Virginia-based Harris Corp.
“It is critical for the FBI to engage in a fair and open procurement process,” especially one that doesn’t require software to interact with aged, proprietary Motorola equipment,” Eshoo wrote.
An FBI spokesman declined to comment on Eshoo’s letter.
Motorola, in a letter delivered Friday to Eshoo, responded that “mission critical communications equipment is not a consumer commodity.”
Rather, its public safety radios “are life-saving tools that our nation’s first responders strongly prefer because of their reliability, durability and longevity that is backed by our service and support,” the company said.
The bureau’s proposals for replacing its 30-year-old system with a new one costing more than $300 million exemplify the difficulties created by Motorola’s decades-long dominance over the nation’s emergency public safety radio market, with an estimated market share exceeding 80 percent.
In her letter, Eshoo referred to a series of McClatchy articles last year that described how state and local contracting officials have delivered hundreds of millions of dollars in sole-sourced and biased contract awards to Motorola, enabling it to prop up prices for its glitzy two-way radios at taxpayer expense.
Simply put, the terms of the FBI’s bid solicitation for dual-band radios are inconsistent with the vision of Congress
Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.)
The FBI procurement is especially complicated because of the bureau’s nationwide reach. Bureau contracting officials contend the new equipment must be able to interface with its existing Motorola equipment containing proprietary software, ruling out nearly all other vendors. Its bid solicitation also says FBI agents must carry dual-band radios that can connect with law enforcement agencies nationwide, many of which use proprietary Motorola equipment.
With those requirements in mind, the FBI argued last year that it would be justified in handing Illinois-based Motorola a $500 million, sole-source contract to replace the system. Besides providing for a new FBI network, the contract would have offered other federal law enforcement agencies the option of buying about $170 million of Motorola’s equipment without competitive bidding.
After drawing a flurry of protests, the FBI scrapped the plan and spent the next nine months drawing up two competitive bid solicitations for a new system, a $200 million, five-year package to mainly acquire radio equipment and a $135 million one for infrastructure needed to upgrade the network. But Harris protested both solicitations, freezing the procurements until the Government Accountability Office rules on the bias issue.
In its protests, Harris contended that the proposed contracts, which would be tucked into a $3 billion tactical communications procurement overseen by the U.S. Secret Service, violate the terms of that deal and amount to “a sole-source procurement in favor of (the FBI’s) decades-long entrenched supplier, Motorola Solutions.”
As the ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on communications and technology, Eshoo has for years sought to police the level of competition in government spending on sophisticated electronics networks.
Noting that two-way emergency radios can cost as much as $7,500 each, Eshoo wrote that a truly open procurement “will protect the use of taxpayer dollars and ensure agents are equipped with state-of-the-art radios.”
She also said that any new equipment must be able to connect with a new nationwide public-safety broadband network that Congress directed the Commerce Department to build so that first responders could receive data and video at high-speeds.
“I highly urge you to carefully reevaluate the bidding requirements for this radio contract to ensure that the procurement process is forward-looking and does not limit participation to a single vendor,” she wrote Comey.