OSC Honors Katrina Pumps Whistleblower With 2009 Public Service Award

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Dylan Blaylock, GAP Communications Dir.
202.457.0034, ext. 137
dylanb@whistleblower.org

OSC Honors Katrina Pumps Whistleblower With 2009 Public Service Award

Maria Garzino’s Multiple Disclosures Detail Unsafe Pumps in New Orleans; GAP Client Battled DoDIG and Army Corps for Years

WASHINGTON - Government Accountability
Project (GAP) client Maria Garzino, United States Army Corps of Engineers
(USACE) mechanical and civil engineer, will be awarded the 2009 Public Servant
Award of the Year by the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) on Wednesday, December
16. Garzino is credited with revealing the inadequate state of New Orleans floodwater pumps built by the
USACE after Hurricane Katrina. The disclosures, which both the Department of
Defense Inspector General's (DoDIG) office and USACE fought for years,
showcase how New Orleans residents are still in great danger if flooding occurs
again. The award will be presented to Garzino this Wednesday at the OSC San
Francisco Bay Area Field Office (in Oakland),
at 1301 Clay St., Suite 1220N.

"Both Ms. Garzino and the OSC should be
applauded for their indefatigable efforts in this case," stated GAP
Homeland Security Director Jesselyn Radack, counsel for Garzino. "This is
a perfect example of how one brave individual can make a difference to further
disaster and homeland security accountability." 

The Public Servant Award is the highest honor bestowed
by the OSC. Garzino's courage and persistence over the past three years
should be rewarded - many would not go to the painstaking lengths she did
to alert citizens to a huge vulnerability in public safety.

GAP thanks Maria for her courageous action, and hopes
that this recognition will pave the way for future federal employees to blow
the whistle on wrongdoing.

Background

Garzino served as the Pump Team Installation Leader
for a project that installed new hydraulic pumps in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The
pumps were designed to move floodwater away from the city to the lake side of
the floodgates in case of an emergency.

Garzino blew the whistle on several problems that
rendered the pumps ineffective, despite the fact that USACE officers had
estimated their lifespan at 50 years. After taking her concerns to the Army
Corps in August 2006 and being turned away, Garzino made a whistleblower
disclosure in August 2007 to the OSC - the federal agency charged with
investigating whistleblower disclosures and defending such employees. The OSC
ordered the DoDIG to investigate the claims.

The DoDIG investigation 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...

A few weeks later, the Department of Defense Inspector
General (DoDIG) 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 a defense contractor with long-standing ties to the
USACE.

In an unprecedented move, the OSC then reopened the
case and hired its own independent engineering expert to review and analyze the
information available, provide overall analysis of the hydraulic pumping
system, and then come to a determination.

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, in June 2009: "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 and completely
validated Garzino's allegations about the effectiveness of the pumps.

The report found that the pumps installed in New
Orleans after Hurricane Katrina do not protect the city adequately and that the
Army Corps of Engineers could have saved $430 million in replacement costs by
buying proven equipment.

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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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