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Last week someone sent me a copy of a bid solicitation for “P25 Professional Grade Portable Radios” issued by Contra Costa County, California.  Contra Costa County has been in the news a lot lately because of its severe financial problems.  It’s financial condition is so bad that mass layoffs are being considered, including many of the deputy district attorneys who are responsible for criminal prosecutions. With this in mind, I thought it noteworthy that the County released a bid package that is obviously intended for one bidder under the guise of a competitive procurement.

Contra Costa County is one of two counties that comprise the controversial East Bay Regional Communications Systems Authority known as EBRCSA.  EBRCSA is leading the effort to construct and operate a regional radio system for first responders. While this is an admirable goal, EBRCSA has focused on an unaffordable product  from a single vendor.  Funding for EBRCSA comes largely from Bay Area SUASI which is heavily influenced by Motorola.

Contra Costa County’s radio bid specification could serve as a model for other public entities that desire to have an incredibly expensive, prematurely obsolete and marginally performing radio system for its first responders.

Here are some key points that you may wish to consider including in your P25 portable radio bid, should you desire to follow the example set by Contra Costa County.

  • Make no reference to P25 product certification by an independent testing laboratory.  Managed in partnership with the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Office of Law Enforcement Standards, the P25 Compliance Assessment Program is designed to provide first-responder agencies with testing information that ensures that P25 equipment operates and interoperates as specified by the standard.
  • Include a specification requiring compatibility with an obsolete, proprietary analog trunked radio system known as SmartNet II, even though your city or county does not and never will have a SmartNet II system.  Justify this to potential bidders as a requirement because a neighboring county has a SmartNet II system, even though the neighboring county has announced plans to replace it as soon as possible. Your desired vendor makes SmartNet II equipment and this will help eliminate other bidders from being considered.
  • Do not include a specification for P25 Phase II compliance. This will assure that all of the radios will be obsolete in 2017 and the vendor will be able to sell replacement radios. Planned obsolescence is good, right?
  • Include superfluous terms and conditions in the bid specification that are not in any way related to mobile and portable radios.   References to asbestos removal, toilet facilities, lead-based paint and land excavation will help your RFQ look more credible.  Long documents may be subjected to less scrutiny. Include as much fluff as possible to get  a high page count.
  • Don’t restrict your desired vendor from invalidating all of the terms and conditions in your RFQ by submitting a counter offer, or using a precedence of documents clause in its proposal.
  • Specify the IMBE vocoder as a requirement, even though more robust P25 vocoders may be available. Allow your preferred bidder to bid the oldest and most problematic vocoder possible in order to maximize the profit potential for the vendor.
  • Do not make reference to proprietary P25 extensions such as OmniLink in your RFQ.  Add these at the time of order, after the bid has been completed and can no longer be easily scrutinized by the public.
  • Do not specify any requirement for ambient noise rejection or useful battery life per charge.  A product from a non-favored brand might score much higher than what you want to purchase.
  • Specify the battery voltage, the required number of lines on the LCD display, the quantity and layout of the keys on the keypad, and the weight of the radio. This is meaningless to the performance of the radio and may help disqualify products from all but the preferred vendor.
  • DO NOT include substantive requirements related to:
  1. Extended warranties
  2. Factory depot service requirements
  3. Perpetual firmware upgrades without additional charge
  4. Number of years of guaranteed product support and parts availability
  • Include a clause requiring all “work and services” furnished under the contract to be guaranteed for 10 years, but exclude specific warranty requirements for hardware, software and equipment.  Create the appearance of a good specification without actually doing so.
  • Use the following language in response to questions asked by potential bidders when confronted with questions regarding vague and ambiguous requirements in the RFQ: “Please take the time and read the entire specifications of this bid. You can answer all of your questions within the specifications of the bid.”