State agency follies continue: This time its DMS’ turn in the barrel

florida capitol - bw1

Courtesy of the Associated Press’ Gary Fineout who, along with Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida, have a track record of taking on agency heads and staff who make huge gaffes that result in their agencies getting bad press, is the story that dropped Wednesday on how DMS managed to botch a recent My Florida Net2 bid by changing the rules midgame. It also improperly notified all bidders without using the office vendor bid system, resulting in a bid protest and legal challenge by tech giant and incumbent, AT&T. Not to mention they allowed the winning bidder to cut the technological capabilities in half and still manage to eke out a win.

I’m talking about the bid at the Department of Management Systems for the communications network that state agencies and first responders use for telecommunications and Internet. So think natural disaster, emergency management and the information superhighway during an emergency.

No big deal, right? Wrong.

Now, some may say I am weighing in because CR MSA (a subsidiary of Harris Corp.) was the winning bidder. And while I have weighed in on Harris’ issues in the past, this is not about Harris, this is about DMS lessening the ability of our state to handle an emergency – something our state heralds as one of the best things we do. Craig Fugate anyone? Jeb Bush anyone?

To explain, the bid required the bidders to have five years of experience delivering the same services to a minimum network size of 800 sites. However, CR MSA, again a subsidiary of Harris Corp., has been incorporated, according to public records, less than five years. Problem No. 1 and a clear red flag for staff handling the initial assessment. It never should have been allowed to bid in the first place.

Now, let’s get into where this bid is now and how its inept handling affects average Floridians. The current system runs on nodes (think highways for information to run on). Logic would dictate that the more highways or paths for information to flow the better the flow of information, right? In fact, DMS made a minimum 10-node system a requirement of the ITN. However, the staff at DMS decided to ignore the fact that Harris’ sub-company submitted a plan that had five nodes and not the minimum required 10 nodes specified in the ITN that the system runs on now. One would think that would have caused Harris’ sub-company to be disqualified in the bid as nonresponsive to bid specifications.

Right? Wrong again.

Now riddle me this: Think five roads versus 10, for a system that counts on the best pathway for information to run on. If three highways go down in a natural disaster, you need more information highways to handle the need and reroute communication traffic. Essentially, the Harris subsidiary submitted a proposal for a less-effective method to deliver vital information for our first responders and agencies during an emergency.

Are you starting to see the problem here?

Did DMS study how a five-node system would affect Emergency Management, the 911 system, miraculously in the middle of a procurement? Or did they make the change without a thorough vetting of pitfalls? Another red flag!

So what did DMS do that allowed this lesser five-node bid to move into a better posture for award? Change the rules midgame. Problem No. 3, or is it 4? I’ve lost count.

DMS decided to change the bid specs from a minimum of 10 nodes to a minimum of five nodes midway through the bid after AT&T already submitted a 10-node bid and had contractual agreements in place for a 10-node system. They were stuck moving forward with their 10-node bid. On the other hand, the Harris subsidiary already submitted a five-node bid, that didn’t meet the initial bid specifications, so their bid was given a winning advantage on pricing (almost seems like they knew DMS would make the change for them). What are we up to here?

I would guess running a five-node system would be half the cost of running a 10-node system, right? So why would DMS move toward the fewer-node system, which is less effective and has less ability to handle an emergency, mid-bid? Well, I don’t know that. To allow for Harris to get the bid? To save money, yet jeopardize the system of emergency management?

Or scary version: They did not know better and did not understand the technological specifications that are needed to meet a state like ours’ emergency management needs?

Regardless of the why, and regardless of the missteps, the state has the chance to take a second look at this. And whether they take this chance to bring in some higher-ups to say they better look at this again, it’s clear that taking chances in a state that is a storm magnet, is just not smart. Or, maybe changing the rules midgame were meant to favor one bidder, in which case maybe there are smart reasons. Or maybe DMS staff just screwed up.

Either way, it has not been a good week for Gov. Rick Scott’s agencies.

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also the publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.


Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Drew Dixon, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Cole Pepper, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Drew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704