Udall says red tape threatens aerial firefighting efforts

A June, 2011 wildlfire burns in Keystone Gulch, Summit County, Colorado Bob Berwyn photo.

Contracting delayed by procedural protests

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Along with the threat of looming budget cuts from sequestration, Forest Service efforts to prepare for the impending wildfire season could be hampered by hiccups in the contracting process for air tankers, according to U.S. Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO).

Udall, who serves on the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is urgin private contractors to respect the U.S. Forest Service’s upcoming decision to award contracts to several U.S. companies to supply next-generation air tankers.

More information on the air tanker contract issue is online at Wildfire Today and Fire Aviation, where a recent post indicates the Forest Service expects to finalize contracts in the next couple of months.

Protests and challenges of past contract awards have already delayed the Forest Service’s acquisition of seven next-generation air tankers. Additional protests could leave Colorado and the West without adequate tanker resources for the 2013 wildfire season, Udall said.

Federal contracting rules allow private companies not awarded government contracts to protest contracting decisions without penalty. Previous protests by unsuccessful bidders have already delayed the delivery of the next-generation air tankers by at least eight months. Federal agencies, however, are allowed to override a protest in cases where there are urgent and compelling circumstances.

“Air tankers are critical firefighting resources that can save lives and prevent small blazes from becoming catastrophic wildfires,” Udall said. “When I met with Northern Colorado firefighting and emergency-management officials this week, they all agreed that we need to ensure that Colorado and the Forest Service have the resources they need to fight fires now. If contractors continue to challenge agency decisions, I will urge the Forest Service to use its emergency authorities to override the challenges and finalize the tanker contracts as soon as possible. Colorado cannot wait.”

In the meantime, the Forest Service has extended previous contracts that expired to try and cover any potential gap. Federal officials are also eying changes to the way military tankers are used.

With dry conditions in parts of the West, concerns are rising that 2013 could be another serious wildlfire season. The Forest Service is aiming to update its air tanker fleet with faster planes and bigger payloads. The air drops help slow the spread of the flames, enabling ground crews to establish containment.



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