Saturday, April 2, 2011

Alert: New York Times Reports on BayWEB Stimulus Grant Allegations

Report Will Force Climb Down by Obama Administration on Controversial Project 04/02/2011 San Francisco - The New York Times this evening published a story that breaks new and highly damaging information about the controversial BayWEB $50.593 broadband stimulus grant. 

The story provides new details of how BayWEB is part of upwards of $100 million in federal funds issued to San Francisco area governments which purchased equipment from Motorola, Inc. (now Motorola Solutions, Inc., NYSE: MSI) in procurement contracts which were noncompetitive.
Commerce Secretary Gary Locke (center), with President Obama,
and Vice President Joe Biden 

Written by staff reporter Jennifer Gollan of the The Times' Northern California bureau, The BayCitizen, the story is the best single piece of investigative journalism on BayWEB to date. The piece covers the history of the public safety project's  affiliated network and allegations about its regional sponsoring organizations.

The story traces the role of Ms. Laura Phillips, Executive Director of the federally funded Bay Area Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI), and other employees of the City of San Francisco as they worked on the "selection process" which resulted in the $50 million grant award to Motorola, Inc.

As seen in Phillips' appearance in a Motorola-produced video (below) about BayWEB, she has for years functioned as a governmental official enunciating the public policy, technology, and marketing positions of Motorola from her perch inside a public sector agency.   

Ms. Gollan of The BayCitizen also highlights the role of Mr. William J. McCammon, the head of the East Bay Regional Communications Systems Authority (EBRCSA), in moving ahead with tens of millions in non-competitive purchase efforts to the benefit of Motorola.

As regional officials have increasingly questioned Ms. Phillips' role in BayWEB and other activities of UASI, McCammon has more and more attempted to salvage the project. In this he has been joined by Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern, the listed Executive Sponsor of the BayWEB grant. McCammon's EBRCSA was established to serve as the regional public safety support facility for Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. last September was the first publication to report the role of Phillips, a former government affairs executive of Motorola, and that of her three managers involved in the choice of the company to serve as the applicant "partner" in the grant process. The staffers were also immediate former employees of Motorola, the Schaumberg, Illinois based equipment manufacturer holding a full 80% of the U.S. public safety communication equipment market.

Commerce Department's Continued Support
The key question now emerging for BayWEB: How and when will the Obama Administration do the inevitable climb down form its continued support of the BayWEB project? 

One of the most perplexing aspects of BayWEB is the length of time that senior officials of the Administration have continued to take a see no evil approach to the $50 million project award. Tonight's report in the Times, and the follow-on scrutiny it creates will now significantly erode that stance.

As we reported on March 3, Assistant Commerce Secretary Lawrence E. Strickling met in Alameda County with the very regional officials, including Ahern, McCammon, and Phillips, most heavily criticized for the BayWEB mess.

Strickling is Administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) which issued the $50 million BayWEB grant. He had previously voiced his continued full support of the project in both October and February, as he answered the project's leading critics, Mayor Chuck Reed of San Jose, and Santa Clara County Executive Jeff Smith. 

Reed and Smith were successful late last year in triggering an investigation of BayWEB by Commerce Department's Office of Inspector General (OIG) in November. As OIG chief Todd Zinser testified to Congress in February, the investigation is ongoing.

Over a seven  month period, the Mayor and the County Executive have also communicated directly with Strickling's boss, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke. Despite these communications, despite the ongoing investigation by the OIG, the Strickling on-the-ground meeting went ahead.

Sources present at the meeting tell us that the Administrator urged participants to expedite the project by continuing to frame a new local governance agreement -- one which did not exist when the grant was applied for a year ago-- and to complete a no-bid materials and system maintenance purchasing document with Motorola. has been provided with both documents, which we will publish the week of Monday, April 4. We are doing so despite the efforts of UASI and the California Technology Agency (CTA) to withhold the documents from public inspection, in violation of the California Public Records Act. CTA, in yet another of the many mysteries of BayWEB, has been drawn into the current effort to keep the project moving at all costs. 

Timing is Everything
Today's national reporting on the allegations of public ethics and procurement improprieties in the BayWEB federal grant comes within days of two other events relating to investigations of the broadband stimulus program.

On Thursday the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology marked up legislation intended to trigger give backs to the U.S. Treasury of broadband stimulus grants in instances in which fraud or nonperformance are found.. The mark up, voted to be sent to the full Committee on Energy and Commerce, was proposed by Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR-02)  in February. 

As we reported yesterday, credible multiple published reports out of Florida state that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has opened its first probe of a broadband stimulus grant.

Also issued by Strickling's NTIA, the $1.2 million grant to the City of Tallahassee was sponsored by the City Mayor, who is a compensated board member of one the partners in the project. As in the case of BayWEB, questions have been raised about the pre-application selection process of the grant partner. 

Our Take: No More Chicago Rules
 It is time for Secretary Locke to step in and make this right. He needs to stop listening to Larry Strickling on this one. 

Chicago rules don't apply when it gets this messy, even for a large hometown employer.  

The Secretary needs instead to take the wise counsel of, well, his General Counsel. He's a guy from Boston who has never steered us wrong in any number of tough fights. He'll do the same now. 

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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