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Radio vendors question Iowa requests for bids

DES MOINES (AP) — Nearly two years after questions first arose about the way Iowa asked for bids on law enforcement radios, some vendors are still complaining.

At the heart of the dispute is the question of whether the state is trying to set up the bidding process to favor Motorola radio and make it impossible for other radios to be chosen, as some vendors believe.

The Des Moines Register reported the contract would be worth about $7.5 million because Iowa wants to purchase radio equipment for the State Patrol and the Departments of Natural Resources and Corrections.

After Michael Miller with Marshalltown-based Racom Co. complained to lawmakers, state officials faced scrutiny and pulled the original proposal and a second request for bids.

But Miller said the state’s third attempt to buy radios that is under consideration now is still flawed. He said the requirements of the bid are too specific, so the Harris radios he sells are eliminated.

Now a bipartisan group of state senators is calling for an investigation into the bidding.

“It stinks like somebody’s got a conflict of interest and somebody’s getting greased behind the scenes to make this deal happen,” said Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines.

Lawmakers even passed a bill last year outlining the factors departments should consider when buying radios to help ensure a fair and open process.

The state agency responsible for issuing the request for bids, Administrative Services, agrees that the first request issued in 2011 was flawed. Spokesman Caleb Hunter said the proposal shouldn’t have included specific measurements for a Motorola handset, but he defended the subsequent requests.

“Certainly we don’t believe that the RFPs are unfair or disproportionately slanted toward one vendor or another,” Hunter said. “We do everything we can to make sure we have a defensible process.”

Last fall, both Racom and Illinois-based industry leader Motorola Solutions Inc. submitted bids on the latest radio request for Iowa. But no decision has been made on which business should win that contract.

Racom and another vendor still say the latest radio request is improper and slanted in Motorola’s favor because of certain features described in the request.

Motorola declined to comment on the radio bidding in Iowa because the process is ongoing.