L.A. County Emergency Response System, $700 Million and 3 Years in the Making, Implodes at Final Hour
Updated after the jump with appalled response from the L.A. County Board of Supes. Also, for clarity: The CEO only chaired the oversight board for this project. There is a giant roomful of folks -- especially county attorneys -- responsible for the mess.
We plebeians don't hear much about the suits up at the L.A. County Chief Executive Office -- their jobs are so bureaucratic and paperworky that it's hard to pin them for any specific failures.
But something just went majorly wrong on CEO hill. So wrong, that L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca is reportedly traveling (with important-looking entourage) all the way to Washington, D.C., for to beg President Obama -- who surely has a short temper for incompetent pols right now -- for a second chance.
Here's what went wrong, from what we've been able to gather:
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Three years ago,
staffers at the Chief Executive Office a joint-power authority entity put together by all major stakeholders in the county, overseen by a 17-member board, embarked on a mission to equip the county with a historically awesome emergency response system -- one that would avoid the shortcomings of the 9/11 aftermath in the case of terrorist attack, and serve equally well during earthquakes or other natural disasters.
The Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications System, or LA RICS, as it was to be called, would have brought the county's many law-enforcement agencies and first responders together on a central network, allowing them to tip each other at lightning speed.
Though CEO William Fujioka, chairman of the project's 17-member board, won't say exactly why talks have been halted, LA RICS members seem to have made some terribly un-transparent choices when selecting which company would receive taxpayer dime to construct the system.
Motorola Co., which also bid on the project, filed a formal protest over the way in which the two companies' proposals were evaluated. Company executives again vigorously protested when a member of the county's negotiation team gave Raytheon staffers classified technical information from Motorola's proposal. Motorola threatened legal action if the deal with Raytheon went through.
Indeed: Patrick Mallon, the project's executive director (not a good person to be right now), tells the Times that negotiations with Raytheon have been suspended as lawyers look into possible violations of "state rules on how contracts for publicly funded projects must be structured and awarded."
So why does the delay matter, besides the fact that it's an absurd, incompetent waste of time and money?
Here's the thing: Of the project's $700 million budget, about $283 was expected in federal grants. And the deadline to apply for those grants is rapidly approaching. If Baca -- who also served on the board, embarrassingly -- isn't able to convince a (damn distracted) Obama that he should forgive LA RICS its blunderings and give it more time to approve a contract, the money will either have to come from the county's own piggy bank, or the project will collapse.
Raytheon, which has obvious interests in maintaining its own (perhaps sketchily obtained) contract with the county, is especially dismayed:
"We are very disappointed about this development," said Michael Bostic, a Raytheon executive. "This delay hurts public safety and the citizens of Los Angeles County."
That's debatable -- we'll probably just have to deal with our current mess of a emergency-response system a little longer -- but the fact remains that we've all put quite an investment in this post-9/11 piece of work, whether we knew it or not, and deserve far better from the elusive L.A. County CEO. At $338,458 per year, no less.
We've contacted the CEO, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors and the L.A. County Sheriff's Department for more information on how they let such a ridiculously important responsibility reach this state of reckless corruption.
Update: L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky expresses his disgust pretty clearly this afternoon:
"This is one of the worst and potentially most costly mistakes I have ever witnessed in all my years in government," he says in a statement. "Getting an extension of time on the LA RICS grant, necessitated by having to throw out the bids and start over, will take a monumental effort and quite a bit of luck."
Update No. 2: Ryan Alsop, assistant L.A. County CEO, wants to clarify that Fujioka was only one of 17 board members -- in addition to dozens of LA RICS staff members, and county attorneys -- who could have caught the procedural errors before it was too late. In addition, he says he thinks "these are things that can be dealt with, and will be dealt with. ... People are a little frustrated, but it is what it is."
According to Alsop, Fujioka will be joining the sheriff on his trip to Washington, D.C. to ask Obama for an extension. Good luck explaining your way out of this one, guys.
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