Motorola Gets (Another) No-Bid Contract with Texas County

by | January 28, 2015 AT 2:40 PM

By Greg Gordon

The broadband deal that Motorola secured in Harris County, Texas, offers a case study in how the company almost magically avoids head-to-head bidding on many contracts.

When $6 million in federal grants to the Port of Houston became available for what would become the nation's first pilot emergency high-speed broadband network, Motorola already had an inside track. The county that envelops Houston had a history of awarding sole-source radio contracts to the industry leader.

But the pilot project, in the latest technology for delivering data and videos to first responders, seemed an obvious time to solicit proposals from all comers.

Apparently, officials of the nation's third-largest county didn't think so.

At a conference in May 2011 outside Austin, Texas, Harris County systems architect John Chaney stood to take questions about the project. Moments later, the man built like a football lineman made a comment that dropped jaws.

"I would never have thought Motorola could do this, but Motorola came in and told me such a great story, I couldn't not go with them," he said, according to two attendees, who were not authorized to speak for the record.

In the audience were representatives of Motorola competitors who didn't get a chance to tell their stories.

A county attorney winced and shook her head, then tried to explain why the contract was open and fair under Texas law, even though no other company was invited to bid, the attendees said.

In a recent phone interview, county officials contended that the $7.5 million contract (the county put up 20 percent of the money) was competitively bid because it was added to a two-way radio contract awarded by the Houston-Galveston Council of Governments that Motorola won competitively in 2007.

Piggybacking on competitively bid contracts in different jurisdictions _ even in other states _ has become an accepted mechanism for local governments to bypass potentially lengthy and contentious procurement processes. The Houston-Galveston contract also was used by Fort Worth and Washington, D.C., to award Motorola deals worth tens of millions of dollars without taking bids from other vendors.

(c)2015 McClatchy Washington Bureau