Emergency Communications System On Hold After Legal Snafu
An emergency communications system that could facilitate open channels between more than 34,000 first-responders in Southern California has been sent back to the drawing board because attorneys who approved the initial Request For Proposal have determined that their method violates public contracting law.
Communication giants Raytheon and Motorola were in the running for the Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications System (LA-RICS) project, which could cost upwards of $700 million, and after three years of heated negotiations, the contract appeared to be Raytheon’s.
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After Motorola filed a complaint alleging that negotiators revealed proprietary information about their company to the competition, County Counsel stepped in and announced that they discovered that the RFP process being used violated public contracting law.
There is a significant difference in what governments can and cannot do when they are buying supplies and building communication towers; in one, governments can negotiate for a better deal with suppliers, which would include technology, information and communication systems. In the other, construction projects must be handled by sealed bids and awarded to the lowest bidder.
Those procedures were melded together in the RFP for the LA RICS project
Supervisor Michael Antonovich placed an item on Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting agenda, asking for an update from the LA RICS and some answers to how this situation came to pass.
“The County is a member of the Joint Powers Authority and there are more than 80 participating agencies, with the number of cities in the county,” said Anna Pembedjian, who serves as justice deputy for Antonovich. “The JPA staff is working to put out the new RFPs in the early part of September. We don’t have a deadline, but the process involves releasing the RFP, evaluating the applicants and awarding the contract. They hope to have that done by the end of the year.”
The County is also under the gun because one of the requirements of the $155 million federal grant received in September 2010 is that two-thirds of the network had to have been built within a year.
Patrick Mallon, executive director of LA-RICS, said that a review by both county and outside counsel determined that the RFP process set forth by this project may not be allowable under the California Public Contract Code.
“Out of concern for that, when the board met last week, it was determined that we would restart the procurement process,” Mallon said.
The intention of the LA-RICS was to establish a ‘turnkey’ relationship with their contract, where one vendor would handle the project from start to finish.
The new RFP process will involve three phases, Mallon explained. The first involves the design of the telecommunications system; this vendor will identify any improvements required at the transmitter sites. The second phase would be the architect/engineer contracted to design the site improvements and the third would be the contractor who actually completes the improvements.
According to Mallon, there are two different kinds of sites; the 75 land/mobile radio sites used by police and fire and the 300 sites used by broadband systems that empower cell phones 4G wireless data systems.
After improvements are completed, the first contractor – the telecommunications designer – would install their equipment and the system would be ready for service.
Mallon said that they are hoping things move quickly so the county does not lose any grant money.
The situation has prompted County CEO William Fujioka to ask outside counsel to examine other contracts to make sure this conflict doesn’t raise its ugly head again. In the meantime, the cost of the project could increase by several thousand dollars when legal costs from Raytheon and Motorola start adding up.