Ex-staffers now in government help Motorola land contracts

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As a Motorola saleswoman from 2004 to 2006, Laura Phillips coached local officials on how to secure state and federal grant money to pay for new public-safety radio equipment.

Later, Phillips used her knowledge in a much different way.

When she was put in charge of a government agency overseeing funding for emergency-communication projects in the San Francisco Bay Area, her office shepherded a federal grant that handed her former employer a $50 million deal to build the nation’s first regional high-speed broadband network for emergency responders.

The episode shines light on a reverse revolving door: Instead of leaving government for lobbying jobs, numerous Motorola workers have quit their private-sector jobs for government positions in which they’ve taken actions benefiting their former employer.

In Phillips’ case, critics claimed her office pursued the grant without the knowledge of some of the six affected major cities and counties, and that Motorola competitors got little shot at the deal. Phillips denied favoring Motorola.

Investigators for the Commerce Department’s inspector general’s office ultimately concluded that Phillips’ office rammed through a grant application that was rife with “significant misrepresentations,” including that a joint authority for 10 Bay Area counties existed a year before its first meeting.

Phillips wasn’t found to have engaged in misconduct, but the project is now dead.

In Anchorage, Tryg Erickson said he spent more than a quarter-century working as a Motorola salesman before leaving in 2005 to take a job as director of communications and electronics for Alaska’s biggest city.

Two years later, the city bought a $25 million two Way Radio system from Motorola without soliciting proposals. Instead, it adopted terms from a competitively bid contract that the state had awarded to the company in 1999, Erickson recalled.

The citywide public-safety system was a project, he said, that “everyone knew would go to Motorola.”

“My previous customer was my predecessor” in the city job, he said, “and that’s not as uncommon as it would seem. There’s pretty much Motorola and anybody else.”