Security systems bidding becomes decidedly political

The bidding for the provision of security systems for the 2004 Athens Olympics is in the final stretch, with the rival consortiums doing everything in their power to get the job – including enlisting the aid of foreign diplomats to put pressure on the Greek government. Prime Minister Costas Simitis has asked the two ministers implicated in the deal, Defense Minister Yiannos Papantoniou and Public Order Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis, to decide on the winning bidder by January 15, because the timetable for setting up the security systems by the time the Athens Olympics start, on August 13, 2004, is very tight. The two bidders are a group led by US-French joint defense company Raytheon Thales Systems (RTS), and another led by the USA’s Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC). Greek companies are included in both groups. The two consortiums’ initial bids, budgeted at around 450 million euros, were considered too expensive by the Greek government, which had set 210 million as the project’s initial budget. Following Simitis’s personal intervention earlier this week, the SAIC consortium lowered its bid to 269 million on Tuesday. The RTS consortium at first only lowered its bid to 400 million euros the same day, but is said to be preparing a lower bid. According to sources, RTS is going to contest SAIC’s technical ability to complete the project on time. In that, it has lately enlisted an unexpected ally, the UK government. The British are allegedly angered by the replacement, in the SAIC consortium, of telecommunications company Marconi PLC with an Austrian company, and argue that Marconi’s replacement, which will provide equipment for the TETRA wireless telecommunications system, has not submitted a complete list of the products it will install. Diplomatic pressure is not limited to the British: the Americans, the French and the Germans are also engaged in behind-the-scenes efforts to persuade the government to choose their preferred group. SAIC had first claimed that the bidding was skewed in favored of RTS, due to the presence in the American-French consortium of Greek telecom equipment company Intracom. RTS has countered that Intracom’s role as a sub-contractor is very limited and that the setting up of the TETRA system will be done by OTE and information technology firm Delta Singular. The TETRA system is considered SAIC’s Achilles’ heel; on the other hand, OTE has already been operating a TETRA network in some parts of Attica, notably the new Athens International Airport. On its part, SAIC points out that it was involved in the restoration of US government communications following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and it played a role in providing a security system at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics earlier this year. The Raytheon-Thales group counters that the security systems will not just be set up for the Games, but will provide the backbone for a national security system, like the ones RTS has helped build in other countries. RTS is also more experienced in security systems for the Olympics, having been assigned the job in the previous three Summer Games, in Barcelona, Atlanta and Sydney.

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