Hypocrisy In Action: Stingray Maker, Who Relies On Secret No Bid Contracts, Whines About Motorola Getting A No Bid Contract
from the Motorola's-kettle-deemed-'blackest-yet'-by-pot-maker dept
Harris Corporation, the stealthy, mostly-silent company behind the cell tower spoofer known as the Stingray, is making a few louder noises now that its financial toes are being stepped on. The company muffles law enforcement agencies with restrictive terms and conditions that include broad non-disclosure clauses and a general admonishment that as much information as possible should be withheld from the public at all times. These tactics have worked out for its core business — tower spoofers — allowing Harris to make a whole lot of money without having to deal with FOIA fallout and citizen backlash.
Part of what makes Harris so profitable is its frequent no-bid contracts. Rather than being forced to compete with other companies, Harris’ overbearing emphasis on secrecy often results in local law enforcement going “sole source,” rather than expose requisitions for controversial technology to the general public. (This obviously benefits law enforcement agencies as well, which explains their readiness to bypass a more competitive, multiple-bid process.)
What little information has been pried loose with FOIA requests confirms this. Illinois State Police spent $250,000 obtaining Stingray equipment with a “sole-source” contract, most of which was paid by federal Homeland Security grants. So have agencies in northern California and Florida. In fact, the DHS has designated Harris as its sole-source provider for IMSI catchers (Stingray devices), meaning the company has a direct line to some of the deepest pockets in the law enforcement/security community.
The Harris Corp. has become the second contractor to formally protest the FBI’s plans to award a no-bid contract worth up to $500 million to Motorola Solutions Inc., calling the bureau’s proposal to forgo competitive bidding “factually unsound, legally unwarranted and wholly unnecessary.”
The FBI gave other vendors only a couple of weeks’ notice late last month that it planned to hand the contract to Illinois-based Motorola Solutions, the company that dominates the nation’s emergency communications market, mainly to upgrade the 30-year-old two-way radio network used by thousands of bureau agents.
This in itself would be nothing more than self-interest leading to blatant hypocrisy. But considering Harris Corp. bent Motorola over in the past to secure a contract with the Army, this goes right past normal hypocrisy and into some sort of delusional netherworld where Harris floats untroubled by anything resembling a conscience or a cursory Google search.
This week, Congress’s watchdog agency, the Government Accountability Office, released its latest round of rulings on defense contracts it had been asked to overturn. Such contract disputes have gotten more and more common as defense contractors compete more and more desperately for shrinking budgets. But the Government Accounting Office is a harsh mistress: GAO overturns only 3 to 4 percent of disputed contracts. So, on Tuesday, when the agency said it upheld Motorola Solution’s complaint against the Army for improperly awarding a $2.5 million radio contract to Harris Corp., it was remarkable just for the fact that Motorola won.
The kicker here? Harris had to offer a competitor’s product because its own offering didn’t meet Army specifications.
At the time the Army had to make its decision, Harris’s radio had not yet been approved by the Michigan Public Safety Communications System — a requirement of the contract, and an understandable one for a facility located in Detroit. But Motorola’s had. So after deeming Harris’s original proposal unsatisfactory, the Army gave Harris wiggle room to offer the Motorola product, in essence, as a back-up in case the Harris radio wasn’t certified in time.
This should have resulted in the Army tossing the bid, but instead it cut Harris so much slack that it eventually awarded it a contract to be filled using a bidding competitor’s products. Not that Motorola is spotless. It, too, has a history of attempting to lock down sole source contracts, but at least it hasn’t undercut its bid competitors by re-boxing their goods.
Above and beyond the petty squabbling of government contractors with outsized senses of entitlement, there’s the underlying issue of transparency and financial responsibility. Doing business with contractors who tie up agencies with restrictive NDAs and push for sole source contracts doesn’t serve the public interest at all. Secrecy relegates the people funding these purchases into mere bystanders who are only informed of where their money’s going months or years after the fact, often with a visit to district courts to force these entities to respect the “F” part of FOIA. Sole source means paying whatever the contractor decides is a reasonable amount, something that results in the sort of government budget horror stories that include $600 hammers and millions of dollars thrown at tools to help local law enforcement bypass the Fourth Amendment — just as long as they remember to write “terrorism” on the requisition form.