San Francisco Chronicle the San Francisco Fire Department has just lost out on a Federal grant for $7.8 million for a new fireboat because of "procedural delays."
This is a big deal to us here in San Francisco. While others around the Bay have had to mothball their fireboats, SFFD has worked hard to maintain its capacity to respond to incidents on our waterfront and throughout the Bay Area. During the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake the fireboat Phoenix played a vital role in containing the fires in the Marina Distict. A second boat, Guardian, was presented to the City a year later and is maintained in reserve status. Both boats have done yeoman work but they are both over 50 years old. The Phoenix was built in 1954 and the Guardian in 1951. We're past due for a new vessel.
So who's to blame for the procedural delays? Hard to say. The grant was awarded in the fall of 2009 and Homeland Security took until January 2011 to approve the use of a grant from Chevron as matching funds. The first contract for the design of the new vessel was challenged by one of the bidders, requiring the bidding process to be repeated. A second conttract for construction also ran into problems, causing further delays, and was finally in place in February. Unfortunately, the terms of the grant required that construction be completed by next month, a physical impossibility given the delays.
Granted that taking two years to get contracts bid and approved may seem excessive but that's not unusual for San Francisco, or, indeed, for many jurisdictions. Could we have done better? Given our byzantine contracting process, I'm sure we could have but that's not the point. There is no suggestion that anyone delayed or obstructed this project.
So here's my question: is Homeland Security really so out of touch with reality that it will withhold a vital resource over an administrative requirement? Apparently so, as the best efforts of Senators Boxer and Feinstein and House Minority Leader Pelosi have had no impact. It seems to me that San Francisco has made a good faith effort to meet the terms of the grant and any of us that have worked with Federal grants know that extensions are routinely granted. So what's the problem here?
Could it be that there's a political side to this? Silly question.