Forest Service leaves local contractors out in the cold
The Plumas County Board of Supervisors expressed confusion, exasperation and anger over the fallout from the Forest Service’s recent decision to award a no-bid contract for a fire center at Nervino Airport to a contractor whose nearest office is in Marysville, as part of the Small Business Administration’s 8a program. The 8a program targets “small, minority owned, disadvantaged businesses.”
Some of the supervisors and local contractors argued the Forest Service’s decision was taking money for a project in Plumas County out of the local economy and also significantly limiting the scope of the project.
Chairwoman Sherrie Thrall opened the agenda item Tuesday, Oct. 5, by telling the crowd, “We don’t control the Forest Service contracts.”
The county’s relationship to the project was as the landowner, which leased the land to the Forest Service.
Plumas National Forest Public Affairs Officer Lee Anne Schramel Taylor addressed complaints that the firm selected, Komada, isn’t local.
She said the firm had an office in Marysville and was selected by Plumas County to retrofit schools in the late ‘90s.
She added that most stimulus projects on the forests weren’t handled by the local office but instead by “special contracting centers that were set up throughout the country.”
That was the case with this decision to provide a non-competitive award.
At this point in Schramel Taylor’s presentation, Eastern Plumas Supervisor Terry Swofford interrupted to make a comment on a sentence in her background material.
He pointed to a section indicating Plumas National Forest Supervisor Alice Carlton briefed Swofford in August or September on the fact that an SBA 8a contractor would likely be used.
“It says that Alice briefed me on this. That never did happen,” Swofford argued.
“When we started this project, the very first meetings I had with the Forest Service up in Portola was that we would use local contractors and that’s why I bought into this: to help local contractors get jobs.”
After hearing this comment, Schramel Taylor apologized, telling Swofford she was told in a short conversation that he had been informed of the possibility of an SBA 8a contractor being used in a noncompetitive award.
She said she must have gotten the wrong information.
Swofford added that when Don Bliss of the Forest Service told him about the decision recently, he explained “that decision was made several pay grades above me.”
“That’s nonsense,” Swofford exclaimed. “Somebody had to know this and this should’ve been brought out in the beginning.”
The supervisor wasn’t saying he would have rejected the project had he known about the noncompetitive award, “but when this comes up at the last minute, that just — to me — gives the Forest Service a black eye. It just makes me angry.”
Schramel Taylor later left a clarifying phone message at the Feather Publishing office over the weekend following the meeting.
She said upon further review she came to the conclusion it was Swofford, not her, who had been mistaken.
She indicated Carlton personally informed Swofford Friday, April 9, that the Forest Service would be “in all likelihood going to an 8a contractor award.”
She said Swofford was informed that decision was made because of the nuances of negotiating a lease with the county, “and the additional design features on the building were going to take too long and the ability to competitively contract would not be there.”
Essentially she said the decision was made “because of the timing.”
Government websites on the topic of SBA 8a contracting indicate one purpose of noncompetitive awards is to avoid a lengthy bid process in some situations.
Back at the meeting Quincy Supervisor Lori Simpson said the barracks were removed from the project because Komada’s cost projections for the project were larger than the Forest Service’s original estimates.
Simpson said Carlton recently told her Komada’s projections were twice the cost of the original estimate.
“I’m all for minorities and disadvantaged people,” Simpson said. “It seems like we’re in another time and maybe that could be revisited.
“I guess we have to go to the congressional level to get that taken out, right?
“We’re all on equal ground now I think on bidding for work. Maybe in the past women had problems.
“You can see we got a couple of women board members here. We’re rising up and taking control.”
Thrall said all the board could do was send a letter to Komada, “expressing our desire that they work with our local contractors as subs.”
Schramel Taylor told the board the situation was a reflection of the way government agencies have become more centralized.
She added Plumas companies received contracts in other counties in the past, as Plumas National Forest includes parts of Butte, Lassen, Plumas, Sierra and Yuba counties.
She also promised to get the name and contact information for the contracting officer who made this decision and give it to the board.
Swofford thought the Forest Service could have afforded the barracks if the contract had been put out for bid and awarded locally.
Schramel Taylor told him the barracks were on the top of a list for further funding and she was still hopeful they would be included.
Simpson said she would write her representatives about her opinion that no-bid contracting wasn’t in line with the public’s call for the government to be fiscally responsible.
Contractor Chris Murray of Johnsville told the board this type and size of project was what his group specialized in.
“At no time did I get the impression that there wouldn’t be a competitive bid opportunity for people like myself.
“I would contend that Supervisor Simpson is exactly correct. We could have built the entire facility for less money.”
He added the Forest Service told him this type of no-bid process was used when there wasn’t time to go through the normal process.
“Having been tracking this for nine months, I find that very difficult to swallow.”
Rick Joy, a contractor from Portola, said the county should protest the Forest Service’s action and put specific language about the bid process in future leases.
Plumas Corporation Executive Director John Sheehan said organizations such as Feather River College, where he’s a trustee, have used that tactic successfully in the past.
Company to solicit subcontractors
Plumas National Forest Public Affairs Officer Lee Anne Schramel Taylor told county supervisors that Komada plans to begin outreach to subcontractors in late winter or early spring, but expects anyone interested would have contacted the company by then.
“They intend to purchase fuel, some rental equipment, housing and various materials,” she added, “as long as the pricing is fair and reasonable.”
The company did preliminary outreach by searching for Plumas County contractors online.
Schramel Taylor conducted a similar exercise for her own information. In some cases, the number of groups that came up could be counted on one hand.
“What that tells me is our businesses are missing some opportunities to market themselves using the Internet.”
When Komada did get contact information online and sent an e-mail or made a call, “in many cases they did not receive a response.”
Komada will use local yellow pages as well when it began its full-fledged search for resources later in the year.
Taylor Schramel suggested contractors go to irs.gov/opportunities/procurement for information about getting government projects.