Upgrade of Baltimore's phone system continues to drag on

The years of political infighting over Baltimore’s phone system are finished, but the costly upgrade continues to drag on.

On Wednesday, the city’s Board of Estimates approved nearly $100,000 more for a consultant to work on the project for yet another year.


The $5 million upgrade that Arrow Systems Integration is making to the city government’s antiquated phone system was supposed to begin in 2012 but became mired in a years-long legal and political fight between Comptroller Joan Pratt and former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake that included an inspector general's investigation, a lawsuit and an ethics complaint.

The $99,750 for the Battles Group to consult on the upgrade is “necessary due to delays in project implementation as a result of infrastructure not being ready, pricing negotiations, and shared services,” according to documents submitted to the city spending panel.

Baltimore Comptroller Joan Pratt and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake continued to spar Monday over the purchase of phone-related equipment by the mayor's technology office, purchases Pratt says violate city procurement regulations.

The Battles Group, a Silver Spring-based telecommunications consulting firm, is assisting the Municipal Telephone Exchange, which is run by Pratt, and the Mayor’s Office of Information Technology, which is run by Mayor Catherine Pugh, in upgrading the citywide phone system to Voice-over-Internet-protocal (VoIP) phones. The upgrade is expected to equip 7,000 phone lines with modern features such as caller ID, video conferencing and the ability to forward calls to mobile phones.

The Battles Group was first paid $204,750 to consult under a contract approved in 2015. The contract was supposed to last for two years or until “completion of all project phases, whichever comes latest, but in no case longer than three years.”

The contract extension means the firm will continuing working until March 2019.

Pratt said more than 50 percent of the phone project is finished and she expects nearly 3,700 phones to have been upgraded by the end of the month.

“The Battles Group ensures that the vendor is in full compliance with the terms and conditions of the original contract,” Pratt wrote in an email. “This also includes monitoring the bills of materials, quality assurance of the equipment, technical issues are resolved timely etc.”