Mark Udall, who serves on the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, urged 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. Protests and challenges of past contract awards have already delayed the Forest Service's acquisition of seven next-generation air tankers -- which Udall championed last year. Additional protests could leave Colorado and the West without these tanker resources for the 2013 wildfire season.
"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."
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.
Udall has been a leading voice for ensuring that Colorado and the West are prepared to face the threat of wildfire, including pressing the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Air Force to quickly secure the air tanker resources needed for the 2013 wildfire season. He also has fought to secure federal assistance to repair drinking-water supplies damaged by the Waldo Canyon and High Park fires.