OSC Report Substantiates Allegations of Defective Hydraulic Pumps in New Orleans

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Dylan Blaylock GAP Communications Director
202.408.0034, ext. 137, 202.236.3733 cell
dylanb@whistleblower.org

OSC Report Substantiates Allegations of Defective Hydraulic Pumps in New Orleans

GAP Client Completely Vindicated; Half-Billion Dollar System Originally Pegged for 50-Year Lifespan in Need of Replacement

WASHINGTON - An independent evaluation released
in June by the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), relying on the assessment of an
independent engineer, has determined that there are serious safety and
reliability issues with hydraulic pumps that were installed in New Orleans
after Hurricane Katrina. These pumps are designed, in case of emergency, to
move flood water away from the city to the lake side of the floodgates. Despite
repeated internal reports that the pumps were faulty, the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers (USACE) and Department of Defense Inspector General (DoDIG) have repeatedly
denied inherent flaws in the hydraulic pumps since 2007.

Click
here to read the OSC letter to President Obama detailing the report: http://bit.ly/jGWeQ.

Click here to read the full report of the independent
engineer: http://bit.ly/HENJy (Part 1), http://bit.ly/IZwns (Part 2)

GAP client Maria Garzino, a USACE mechanical and civil engineer, was the
Pump Team Installation Leader who blew the whistle on several problems that
render the pumps ineffective. After unsuccessfully taking her concerns to the Army
Corps in August 2006, Garzino made a whistleblower disclosure in August 2007 to
the OSC - the federal agency charged with investigating whistleblower
disclosures and defending such employees. After assessing Garzino's
charges and the DoDIG's response, the OSC determined in August 2008 that
"...it appears that the pumps remain inadequately untested, and
vulnerable to failure in the event of a hurricane."

Click here to read the 2008 OSC letter to
President Bush: http://bit.ly/XAVTr.

On the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina
and during Hurricane Gustav's rapid approach toward New Orleans last August, the OSC reopened the
case, and in a rare step, hired its own independent professional engineer to
conduct a thorough and impartial investigation. This second report, released in
June 2009, completely validates Garzino's allegations about the
effectiveness of the pumps.

"The
citizens of New Orleans
are at serious risk in the event of a next hurricane because these hydraulic
pumps don't work as intended - that is, as emergency operations
pumps," said Jesselyn Radack,
GAP Homeland Security Director and counsel for Ms. Garzino. "It's
been four years since Hurricane Katrina and the Army Corps still hasn't
protected the city from floods, and at the same time is telling residents that
they are safe."

Detailed Background

In August 2007, Garzino, unable to find
resolution for the issues she raised through her agency, contacted the OSC,
which concluded its initial investigation in August 2008.

The OSC, in its initial investigation, concluded
"that there is a substantial likelihood that the information Ms. Garzino
provided discloses a violation of law, rule, or regulation, gross
mismanagement, a gross waste of funds, and a substantial and specific danger to
public safety" and required the DoDIG to evaluate and investigate the
situation itself. The Inspector General (then Claude Kicklighter) substantiated
more than half of Garzino's claims, but ultimately concluded that the
deficiencies were "...performance related short-comings that did not
rise to the level of a serious violation..."

Garzino submitted comments strenuously
disputing the Inspector General's report and, after examining both, the
OSC concluded that:

After
reviewing the agency report, one finds that the agency's findings and
conclusions are hollow and incomplete, despite compelling evidence that would
lead one to conclude that USACE employees are responsible for wrongdoing. The
agency report appears to avoid holding people accountable for documented
deficiencies in how USACE managed the design, installation, and oversight of
the pump units in New Orleans, all at a substantial and specific danger to
public health and safety to the people of New Orleans

The OSC further found that "The
government and the public cannot reasonably trust that the flood control system
in place in New Orleans
possesses reliability and integrity." The OSC then concluded that:

...apparent
defects in the agency's report lead me to question the impartiality of
the investigation into Ms. Garzino's allegations and conclude that many
of the agency's findings are inconsistent with available evidence...I
am particularly concerned about the public safety risk created by the
assumption that the pumps will adequately operate during a hurricane....I must
concur with Ms. Garzino's recommendation that an investigation be
conducted by independent professional engineers, not subject to the supervision
of DoD management, in order to ascertain reliably the scope of past and present
dangers of the defective pumping units to determine appropriate remedial
actions.
 

The OSC then reported its results to the Bush
administration and relevant Congressional committees, and closed the case (as
protocol dictates).

Click
here to read the OSC Report on Analysis of Disclosure, Agency Report,
Whistleblower Comments, and Comments of the Special Counsel:  http://www.osc.gov/FY2008/Scanned/08-19%20DI-07-2724/08-19%20DI-07-2724%20Analysis.pdf

A few weeks later, the DoDIG, then headed by
newly-appointed acting Inspector General Gordon Heddell, announced it was
re-examining the case. After months of investigation, the DoDIG found the pumps
to be safe, relying on an independent assessment performed by Parsons
Corporation, a defense contractor with long-standing ties to the USACE.  

In an unprecedented move, the OSC reopened the
case and hired its own independent engineering expert to review and analyze the
DoDIG report, the Parsons report, Garzinos' response to the Parsons
report, and an overall analysis of the hydraulic pumping system, and then make
a determination as to who was right.

Upon conclusion of the review and analysis of
the above-cited material, the independent engineering expert submitted his
independent technical opinion in a report detailing his findings, and
concluded: "Based on a review of the documents and communications with
the whistleblower, Apariq believes the allegations of the whistleblower have
significant merit and should be seriously considered by OSC."

The OSC, relying on the independent
engineering technical opinion, completely rejected the DoDIG argument. This OSC
report, which was released in June 2009, stated:

There
appears to be little logical justification for: (1) restricting the emergency
pumping solicitation to only the untested hydraulic pump systems, (2) not
requiring the installation of a reliable pumping system which would adequately
protect New Orleans, (3) spending hundreds of millions of dollars to install forty
MWI hydraulic pumps...which are scheduled to be replaced at an estimated
cost of greater than $430 million...and (6) installing hydraulic equipment
without containment protection to prevent potentially violating the Clean Water
Act.

This OSC report further stated:

After
a review of the agency report, and the assessment conducted by Parsons, Inc.,
as well as the whistleblowers comments, given the scope of the design and
installation failures, I am not persuaded to reverse our previous
determination.....

This report was again sent to the President,
the Chairmen of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, and those
committee's rankings members.

Recent Developments

On numerous occasions USACE officers cited the
original lifespan of the hydraulic pumps to be 50 years. This life span was reported
to Congress in order to get authorization and funding for the project). (This information is accessible through
USACE Project Information Reports)

In addition, Col. Jeff Bedey, commander of the Corps'
Hurricane Protection Office in New
Orleans, informed the public in a November 2007 public
meeting that the "closure structures," which include the hydraulic
pumps, were a 50-year solution:

These
have something around a 50-year lifespan. These were designed to be there for
50-years.
(page
3).

Click here to read Bedey's full interview: http://www.nolaenvironmental.gov/nola_public_data/projects/usace_levee/docs/original/2_26_08MtgSummary.pdf

Furthermore, as Karen Durham-Aguilera, director
of the Corps' Task Force Hope, explained in 2007, the interim closure
structures with installed pumps were supposed to be incorporated into the permanent hurricane protection
solution, not scrapped:

...first,
the concept is in play right now in the temporary pumps we're putting in
place. To make those permanent and to increase that solution, we are working on
that now...

Click here to read Durham-Aguilera's full
transcript: http://www.lacpra.org/assets/docs/April%2012%202007.pdf

But now, after extensive investigation into the
defective nature of the hydraulic pumps, the Corps is claiming that the pumps
were only designed to be temporary. Brigadier General Michael J. Walsh,
commander of the Mississippi Valley Division of the Corps, wrote in an op-ed
that the pumps were supposed to have a "temporary service life."

The
temporary pumps and closure structures at the three outfall canals have a
limited service life
...The temporary pumps were built to last for five to
seven years, or through the years 2011 to 2013.

Click here to read Walsh's op-ed in the New Orleans Times Picayune: http://blog.nola.com/guesteditorials/2009/07/point_of_view_pumping_options.html

In fact, the proposed abandonment of the existing
gated closure structures with installed pumps was never part of the original
plan submitted to Congress. This newest plan by the Corps involves rebuilding
the same gated structure with installed pumps a few hundred yards further
downstream, except this time with "direct drive" pumps instead of
the defective hydraulic pumps that will likely fail in the event of a
hurricane. Instead of paying the estimated $275 million to correct the problems
with the hydraulic pumps and roughly $200 million to increase the needed
pumping capacity, the Army Corps is proposing to abandon the project they have
already spent half a billion dollars on, destroy and haul away the
"temporary" gated closure structure with installed pumps, and then
spend almost $700 million to rebuild everything from scratch.

The Corps is also
claiming that the defective hydraulic pumps have been "battle
tested" by two hurricanes, Gustav and Ike. But, the OSC and their
independent engineer agreed with the whistleblowers charge that the
"black box" data (technically "SCADA" data) shows the
hydraulic pumps were not utilized when the highest canal water levels were
present in the beginning, were not allowed to run at full operating
speeds/pressures, and were not allowed to run for extended periods of time; instead,
they were relegated to an "also pumped" status that was then turned
into a straw man for hydraulic pump performance that was offered up to the
highest levels of the Army Corps as evidence that the pumps were fully
functional. The recorded storm SCADA data shows clearly that the hydraulic pump
runs were not examples of pumping performance that replicate that as seen in a
true hurricane event, but rather examples of what can be called
"demonstration/exercise runs." The Corps offered these
demonstration runs as evidence that the pumps work and keep telling the 311,800
residents of New Orleans
that they are safe.

"The
OSC really went above and beyond the call of duty here," said Radack.
"They should be commended in this instance for getting to the bottom of a
whistleblower's disclosure and standing up for the safety of American
citizens."

###

The Government Accountability Project (GAP) is a 30-year-old nonprofit public interest group that promotes government and corporate accountability by advancing occupational free speech, defending whistleblowers, and empowering citizen activists. We pursue this mission through our Nuclear Safety, International Reform, Corporate Accountability, Food & Drug Safety, and Federal Employee/National Security programs. GAP is the nation's leading whistleblower protection organization.

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