Telecommunications: Helping Radio Provider Win Contract to Build Statewide Radio System

The world of radio communications providers is highly competitive. In 2007, the State of Maine issued an RFP to select a vendor to design and build a statewide radio system to serve multiple state agencies. The new system was needed to address failing infrastructure, obsolete equipment, growing need for interoperability, and federal narrow-banding deadlines. Verrill Dana was retained by one national vendor to help develop a successful proposal, and advise the vendor regarding how best to present the proposal to the State.

In 2008, we were gratified to learn that our client received the top score on the RFP and was awarded a contract worth nearly $50 million. However, before the ink was dry on the award, one of the disappointed bidders filed a challenge, and the matter went to administrative review. We served as outside counsel for the winning bidder. After months of discovery and briefing, a multi-day hearing was held, and the review panel determined that the State’s RFP had a flaw that served to invalidate the RFP. On appeal, the Superior Court agreed, and the State went back to the drawing board and issued a new RFP.

Again, we worked with the vendor to develop a new proposal, and again, the State awarded the contract to our client. This time, there was no appeal, and a final contract was executed in the summer of 2009.

But the story does not end there. Within months of contract execution, we learned that opponents of the statewide radio contract had persuaded several state and local government officials to investigate the statewide radio contract and determine whether it was in the state’s interest. Working quickly, we helped our client work with state officials in the fall of 2009 to address the concerns of lawmakers through the following steps: hosting a statewide “listening” tour to ensure full understanding of the project; developing a website and explanatory materials; and outreach to key state and local officials. We also planned a demonstration project in 2010 for key officials to illustrate that the system design worked and would enhance radio communications in the State.

This substantial effort paid off later when a bill was filed in early 2010 that would have dramatically reduced the State’s ability to build the radio system as planned. With the local support gained during and after the outreach tour, we were able to satisfy state lawmakers that the contract was important for the State and would meet the needs of local government. As a result, the bill died.

After nearly five years of work, our experience with the award of this radio contract underscores the need to carefully understand the needs of procuring agencies; develop clear materials that allow key officials to readily understand complex systems; facilitate open and collaborative communications with state and local officials; and stay a step ahead of any controversies that may arise.