Virginia got just one bidder for a $100M+ radio project. A key legislator wasn’t happy about it.

Virginia got just one bidder for a $100M+ radio project. A key legislator wasn’t happy about it.
A parking lot outside a UVA dorm was filled with hundreds of state police cruisers on Wednesday afternoon. (Source: Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury - Aug. 8, 2018)

Motorola was the only company interested in bidding on an expensive project to update Virginia’s statewide public safety radio system, an outcome that led a competitor to complain the process was one-sided and drew scrutiny from a top lawmaker.

The Statewide Agencies Radio System, or STARS, began with a $329 million contract between the state and Motorola in 2004, with the goal of establishing a 24/7, digital voice and data communications system used by nearly two dozen state agencies.

Much of that equipment is now aging out, and the General Assembly has already allocated up to $120 million in bond proceeds to pay for replacements and upgrades. Another $40 million is expected to be allocated before the project’s estimated completion in the summer of 2023.

When Virginia State Police procurement officials issued a request for proposals for new radio equipment this summer and convened a mandatory pre-bid meeting for companies interested in the project, only Motorola and its partners showed up, according to state procurement records.

L3Harris Technologies, a Motorola competitor with an office in Lynchburg, says there’s a reason they took a pass: They felt the project specifications were written in a way that locked in Motorola as the winner.

“I wish to be very clear that L3Harris is extremely disappointed that the commonwealth apparently did not make every effort to ensure that the STARS procurement would be fully competitive,” Nino A. DiCosmo, the president of L3Harris’s Public Safety and Professional Communications Division, wrote in an Aug. 4 letter to Gov. Ralph Northam and other state leaders. “We do not believe that this active procurement is in the taxpayers' best interests.”

Harris insists the highly technical RFP includes several requirements that only Motorola can meet, mostly dealing with the new equipment having to be interoperable with an existing Motorola system.

The State Police have disputed that claim, suggesting L3Harris’s technology could conceivably work if the company had made a stronger effort to win the contract. In response to L3Harris’s concerns, State Police Superintendent Col. Gary Settle wrote a letter saying the process had been “open, fair and competitive.”

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.