The COFC held that the Forest Service’s determination to override an automatic stay of contract performance, which was triggered by the filing of a GAO bid protest challenging the awards of contracts for helicopter services to support firefighting efforts, was arbitrary and not in accordance with law.
Superior Helicopter LLC et al. v. United States, No. 07-518C et al. (Fed. Cl. Aug. 30, 2007).
While the overarching justification for the override was that the newly-awarded “exclusive-use” contracts were better than the current “call-when-needed” contracts in guaranteeing helicopter availability for the 2007 fire season, the Forest Service provided no data showing that more resources would be made available than were otherwise at the agency’s disposal under pre-existing contracts. The Forest Service also arbitrarily failed to credit its ability under the current call-when-needed contracts to order helicopters for pre-positioning in places where conditions were conductive to lighting strike induced fires. In addition, the Forest Service’s reliance on a desire to establish a national base of helicopters not subject to regional or local control was not a sufficient basis for the override because management of all helicopters rests with the Contracting Officer, who is not contractually barred from managing helicopter and other resources effectively to carry out the agency’s mission and objectives. As a result, the COFC issued a declaratory judgment setting aside and dissolving the Forest Service’s override, thus reinstating the automatic stay of contract performance during the pendency of the GAO protest.