Procurement officials were well-prepared to award wildfire contracts

Federal procurement officers were better prepared to respond to the recent California wildfires because of the government's expanded breadth of prepositioned contracts for emergency supplies and services, officials said this week.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it learned a lesson from Hurricane Katrina, where a dearth of precompeted contracts slowed the delivery of goods and led to a number of hastily arranged sole-source deals.

Over the past two years, the agency inked a number of indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contracts that were then available after President Bush declared much of Southern California a federal disaster area in late October.

"The primary benefit we are seeing now is with the use of prepositioned contracts and the ability to place orders as soon as the requirement is identified and funded," FEMA spokeswoman Ashley Small said in a response to questions by e-mail.

If the pre-existing contracts don't support the specific requirement, local purchase orders and micro-purchases are being conducted, Small said.

FEMA denied a request by Government Executive to speak directly with an agency contracting official because of its "continuing efforts to support California."

According to earlier interviews with FEMA officials, the agency has signed more than 100 contracts to preposition commodities such as tarps, ice, water, radios and pharmaceuticals. Meanwhile, a $90 million interagency contract with the Pentagon's procurement shop -- the Defense Logistics Agency -- provides thousands of ready-to-eat meals, fuel, construction equipment and clothes.

Although it's relatively early in the recovery process, a number of task orders to help individuals and businesses in California already have been awarded. The requirements generally have focused on providing added support personnel, office and IT supplies, vehicle and equipment rental and increased building services to help FEMA's Joint Field Office, Small said.

The bulk of the contracts are being let under the specific mission assignments of the federal agency involved. For example, the U.S. Postal Service has issued a solicitation for construction contractors capable of repairing Southern California mail facilities damaged by the fires.

For requirements not covered under a mission assignment, acquisition officials are using the General Services Administration's Multiple Awards Schedules, national preparedness contracts and interagency agreements, Small said.

If supplies are not available from national prepositioned contracts or interagency agreements, FEMA said it is using provisions of the federal Stafford Act to place orders with local organizations, firms and individuals. California also maintains its own Multiple Awards Schedule procurement system where small and locally owned businesses can bid for recovery contracts.

The Office of Management and Budget says it has not issued any specific emergency contracting regulations pertaining to the wildfires, noting that there are a number of tools that agencies already can use to rapidly acquire resources and personnel.

FEMA also has not needed to use the contracting flexibilities available in the Federal Acquisition Regulation, including provisions that allow for limited competition to expedite the delivery of emergency supplies.

"The regulations for emergency contracting are better defined than they were before Hurricane Katrina," Small said. "In addition to the regulation changes, we have had the opportunity to train our people on these regulations and how they can be used to support disaster operations."

When Katrina struck in August 2005, FEMA had only 36 contracting officers on staff. The agency now employs nearly 200 procurement professionals, FEMA's Chief Acquisition Officer Deidre Lee said last month at a conference of the Government Electronics and Information Technology Association.

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