Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Strickling of NTIA Stands Behind Controversial $50 Million San Francisco BayWEB Public Safety Grant

Assistant Commerce Secretary Will "Consider Legitimate Inquiries of Local Jurisdictions,” Silicon Valley Officials Not Satisfied 10/05/2010 San Francisco - Assistant U.S. Commerce Secretary Lawrence E. "Larry" Strickling is expressing the Commerce Department's continued support of the disputed $50 Million broadband stimulus grant made by his agency to Motorola, Inc. (now, Motorola Solutions, Inc.; NYSE: MSI) for a public safety wireless project called BayWEB, slated to support multiple cities and counties in Northern California.

Lawrence E. Strickling, Assistant Secretary of
Commerce and Administrator of NTIA
Statement Requested from Locke, Issued by Strickling had asked media personnel in the Office of Commerce Secretary Gary Locke last week the Secretary’s reaction to the serious statements by officials being made against the BayWEB award, and the current status, if any, of a review requested in early September by 2 of those officials.  Today’s statement from Assistant Secretary Strickling, which makes no reference to the requested review, is the response given to our inquiries.  

The BayWEB project is 1 of 5 of the first broadband regional public safety wireless networks around the nation to be funded by the federal government.  Special authorization to use the 700 MHz frequency spectrum enabling these systems was authorized earlier this year under a series of region by region waivers issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). BayWEB has become increasingly controversial as officials from 2 of the largest jurisdictions which it is slated to serve have issued serious criticisms of the project’s procurement and selection guidelines. 

The BayWEB application was awarded after going through a highly competitive grant process at the Department of Commerce,” said Strickling in a statement issued to this publication this morning. “When we made this grant award, BayWEB had the support of all of the local governments involved in the project. While we would take into consideration the result of any legitimate inquiries conducted by local jurisdictions that concern a grant, NTIA and the Department of Commerce has thoroughly vetted this project, as we did with all our BTOP awards,” said Strickling. 

“We will continue working with the Bay Area and Motorola through the procurement and beyond for the benefit of the Bay Area and its citizens. It is our hope that all parties involved will be able to work together moving forward," concluded Administrator Strickling in a written statement sent to this publication by his spokesperson, Ms. Moira Vahey.

“Inquiries Conducted by Local Jurisdictions”
The Assistant Secretary’s statement relating to “any legitimate inquiries conducted by local jurisdictions that concern a grant” is significant in view of the 2 current examinations of the BayWEB procurement and selection process now underway.

Last Friday we reported that San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera was beginning to look at BayWEB, as his spokesperson stated to us he launched an effort to “address” the “concerns expressed by area jurisdictions” about the project.  Mr. Herrera remains the only elected official in the City and County of San Francisco to have made a public statement to date about charges lodged against the BayWEB federal award.

As we reported last week, the selection process that resulted in Motorola acting on behalf of regional governments to apply for and win the $50 million federal grant was managed by an agency comprised of San Francisco employees reporting into the City’s Department of Emergency Management (DEM).  The director of that agency, called the Bay Area UASI, and 3 of her staffers most closely associated with the selection of Motorola, are ex-employees of Motorola itself.

Additionally, the Grants Management division of the California Emergency Management Agency (CalEMA) is conducting a review of the BayWEB selection process.  The General Counsel’s Office of CalEMA, an arm of state government headed by an appointee of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA), is complying with a request of this publication under the California Public Records Act (CPRA) to release all documents produced and submitted as part of the review of BayWEB.     
Reaction from The Valley
Reaction from the 2 leading critics of BayWEB to Larry Strickling’s comments made to this publication was swift and pointed.

San Jose is the largest city in Northern California, and the hub of Silicon Valley.  The City’s chief executive, Mayor Chuck Reed, has continued since his first letter calling for suspension of the project on September 8 to express strong concern about the appropriateness, under state and local public procurement law, of the selection of Motorola to act on behalf of the regional municipalities.

“When San Jose staff submitted a letter of support for the Motorola grant in early June, they did not have all of the facts about the project, but were optimistic that it would benefit the region,” said Reed’s press secretary and senior policy aide, Ms. Michelle McGurk, to us today when we asked for comment on Strickling’s statement. “Four months later, concluded the San Jose aide, “we still do not have all the facts, but the more we learn our level of concern about the procurement process increases.”

Santa Clara County Executive Jeffrey Smith had a response which is stark in its brevity and focus. “Not true,” responded Smith when this publication asked his deputy, Ms. Emily Harrison, Dr. Smith’s reaction to the Strickling statement.  When asked to clarify Dr. Smith’s remarks, Ms. Harrison said “It refers to the entire statement, starting with the highly competitive process.”

Strickling heads the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), reporting to U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke.  NTIA administers $4.6 billion of the total $7.2 billion of the Obama Administration’s broadband stimulus program within the Recovery Act of 2009. NTIA issued the $50.593 million award to Motorola for BayWEB in a large multi-project announcement made by Vice President Joseph Bien on August 18.  NTIA administers its portion of the broadband stimulus effort through what it calls its Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), as referenced by Strickling. 

The balance of appropriations made by Congress to the broadband stimulus program is managed by the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) of the Department of Agriculture. RUS issued the last award of the entire program last week. 

The BayWEB Examination is our compendium of information on the project. We believe it is the most comprehensive such collection available. We have assembled links to all media coverage of the issue, to online documents secured by us from confidential and open sources, to documents secured by others and by this publication under federal and state public records filings, and to our own published reporting.

Note on awardee identification: The project grant was applied for by, and subsequently awarded to, the entity Motorola, Inc., formally traded as (NYSE: MOT). Motorola, Inc. was split into 2 new and separate companies, which both began trading on January 5, 2011.  The network infrastructure side of the business, all public safety equipment lines, and the network integration / management services divisions became Motorola Solutions, Inc. (NYSE: MSI). We have retroactively re-tagged our BayWEB stories with the MSI ticker symbol. 
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