SANTA ANA — A Florida-based communications firm could lose its hold on an $80-million Orange County law enforcement communications contract for failing to meet technical standards demanded by a special review team, officials said Monday.
Although the Harris Corp. enjoyed the support of Sheriff Brad Gates in winning tentative approval for one of the biggest contracts in recent county history, officials said the firm could not satisfy terms necessary for final approval by the Board of Supervisors.
Earlier in the process, Gates had urged a top county official to award the contract to Harris--the low bidder on the project--which employed the sheriff's political ally, San Juan Capistrano Councilman Gary Hausdorfer, as a consultant.
Gates, who could not be reached for comment Monday, has denied making any overtures on behalf of Harris. But county General Services Agency Director R.A. (Bert) Scott has said the sheriff talked to him at least three times about giving Harris a "fair shot" at the project.
Harris had been competing with radio systems giant Motorola Communications and Electronics Inc. to outfit the Sheriff's Department and every law enforcement agency in the county with a state-of-the-art radio system.
In October, supervisors approved Harris for the contract on condition that it settle seven technical concerns outlined by a review team made up of county and city officials.
But in a Dec. 16 memo to Robert C. Ford of the Harris Corp. in Melbourne, Fla., the review team found that too much "risk" had been left for the county to assume.
"This risk has the potential to manifest itself in added costs, delayed implementation schedules, loss of capacity and capability, operational difficulties and, in extreme cases, physical safety of personnel," the memo stated.
Among the team's findings was that a measure of the communication system's overall "resilience" under a heavy load of calls could not be provided.
"The requirements of this design will impose additional costs to the cities and county," the memo stated.
The county has allowed Harris until next Tuesday to "submit any comments that you feel need to be made before submission to the (Board of Supervisors)."
Hausdorfer could not be reached for comment, but another local Harris consultant, Scott Hart of Ellis/Hart Associates in Newport Beach, said he was aware of the memo to Ford.
Hart, however, said he was "not in a position" to comment.
Based on the review team's findings, one county official said Motorola, having submitted a bid of about $4 million more than Harris, would be recommended for the contract when it is considered again by the board early next month.
Supervisor William G. Steiner said he had been briefed on the team's findings but was not ready to completely eliminate Harris from the competition.
"I wouldn't be counting anybody out just now," Steiner said. "It's hard for me to believe that a billion-dollar company could not be in compliance (with terms of the contract). If we change horses, will we run into a different set of problems?"
The enormous communications contract attracted the interest powerful lobbyists and consultants, hired by the competing companies. On the other side of Hausdorfer and Hart, Motorola is represented by political consultants Randy G. Smith and Don Willet.
Because of the contract's size, Scott has said he took the precaution of instructing lobbyists on the project that they were not to approach members of a technical committee assembled to evaluate the companies' qualifications.