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Contributed by an anonymous source.


(Ford, Chevy, and Dodge are used herein only to illustrate a point related the procurement of some public-safety radio systems.  All three are fine automakers and the references to these brand names are purely anecdotal.)

County X wanted new squad cars, and it really, really wanted Ford. They looked at Chevy and Dodge, but its employees really, really wanted Ford.

County X found out that Ford was working on a hydrogen-hybrid squad car, and the County thought that this was really cool. Chevy and Dodge have been working on hybrids using various technologies, and Chevy had an electric-gas hybrid but it wasn’t sexy enough for the County. Besides, “it’s a Chevy and we like Fords”. Dodge had not offered any hybrid solution yet in the marketplace. Besides, the DOT has not completed standards yet for hydrogen hybrids.

The State of Y offered a state contract for leasing Fords. County X found out they can side-step all bidding if they “bought” off of the State’s contracts. So County X takes State Y’s specs for Ford (that does not include hydrogen-hybrid as an option), and declares that they do not need open bidding since Fords were on the State’s contract.

No one challenged the “lease versus purchase” nature of the state contract, and no one noticed that hydrogen-hybrid technology was not offered in the State’s contract  County X had no intent to ever lease the cars and intended only to buy cars.

Some folks asked, “Have you seen the hydrogen hybrid before” and “can we test-drive it before we get them”?  “No” was the answer, “…but you know, Ford is a reputable car maker, we believe it will work, most cops drive Fords anyway, so we’re convinced everything will be OK”.

So, County X declares it will be impossible to openly bid this purchase, becomes convinced that while Chevy and Dodge were also working on hybrid squad cars, it could only buy Fords. So, unchallenged, it does not advertise bidding, it does not disclose that they were negotiating with Ford, and processes a Purchase Order  for “10 Ford hydrogen-hybrid squad cars”.

At public meetings, there was enough obfuscation and razzle-dazzle that the purchase order flew right through. Besides “…our cops deserve the best, right?”.

The Ford dealer shows up with a brand-new standard gas-powered Ford squad car with a hydrogen tank under his arm. The Ford guy says, “Do you mind if we consider your county as a BETA test site, since we’ve never done this hydrogen-thing before?”. A loud noise was heard – it was the eyebrows of the Chevy and Dodge dealer snapping to attention.

It turns out that Ford did not finalize the design for the hydrogen-hybrid, it was still designing the parts, and still working on the software that controls the hydrogen-hybrid car’s function. County X says, “sure we’d love to help you, you are a reputable vendor, and we love Fords”. The county then buys hydrogen storage tanks and dispensing equipment with yet another no-bid contract.

Time goes by and the BETA tests are not going well. The county determines that it needs 9 more squad cars and by way of a flawed change-order process, and orders 9 more cars under the same sole-source, no-bid contract. County rules say that if any contract has a change order of more than 50%, it needs to be tossed out and open bidding must take place. But, “our cops deserve the best, right?”.

Time goes on, and the BETA test continues to struggle. In one case, the hydrogen-hybrid car gets so hot, it starts a fire in the County garage.

The County decides to hire a professional engineer, a hydrogen squad car manager who will run the fleet once it hits the street.  It starts holding public meetings with the potential users of the hydrogen-hybrid squad cars. More problems are revealed in those meetings.

The Public Safety Chairman gets out a calculator and determines that they can’t afford to complete the contract for 19 squad cars, but also realizes that hydrogen is expensive, hard to manage (contain, dispense, and use) and declares that “we can’t afford this project”.

So, all pubic meetings stop. The Public Safety Chairman privately meets with the vendor to try to arrive at a “solution”.  Observers sense that there will be no hydrogen-hybrid squad cars forthcoming.

How will this story end? No one knows…yet. The plot to the final ending is being written behind closed doors.

Will the original contract be canceled? Will the change-order be withdrawn? Will the engineer and manager lose their jobs? Will anyone go to jail? “No one got fired for buying Ford” has been a common mantra in County X and State Y, but history might be made in County X.

Here are some links to documents that may be associated with this fictional story.