Washington, DC — The main pumps protecting New Orleans in the event of a major hurricane or flood are “inherently flawed” due to poor design and have still not been properly tested, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The top U.S. Army Corps of Engineers specialist assigned to oversee the city’s new pumping system says that key safeguards were circumvented and “there is an erroneous assumption that…hydraulic pumps are fully operational, and hence, the risk to the public remains high,” in the words of the U.S. Office of Special Counsel.
Maria Garzino, a veteran Corps engineer who was the Team Leader of Pumping Systems Installation for New Orleans, has filed for federal whistleblower status with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC). In a September 21, 2007 letter, OSC notified Defense Secretary Robert Gates that it found Ms. Garzino’s charges have “a substantial likelihood of validity.” By law, Secretary Gates must respond within 60 days.
In her disclosure, Ms. Garzino outlined extensive problems with the hydraulic pumps that the Corps overlooked in order to allow the contractor “to meet time-sensitive deadlines, and to avoid government imposed damages and instead earn financial incentives.” While serious problems with the pumps previously identified by Ms. Garzino (including “catastrophic failure” from gears “blowing up”) in 2006 had been acknowledged by the Corps, the agency now asserts that these concerns have all been resolved. Ms. Garzino, to the contrary, argues that—
- The Corps review team under the command of Brigadier Gen. Robert Crear “arrived on a Friday and then provided a report by Saturday night” without enough time to address technical issues or even interview Ms. Garzino. That report was issued on June 4, 2007;
- In the summer of 2007, additional pumps were installed and tested but the reliability of the original forty pumps is still being assumed, despite strong indications that they could not function under a full “load” for substantial periods of time; and
- Corps commanders deliberately evaded “adequate performance testing requirements” and approved improper contract modifications.
Ms. Garzino filed the disclosure with OSC after finding that the Corps “misled [her] into believing that USACE was going to properly address the pumping equipment problems.” At the same time, “the media had already been informed that the pumps were operational.”
“The Corps clearly still suffers from crippling integrity failures,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting the rising calls for “Corps Reform” stemming from reports by other agency whistleblowers. “As at Walter Reed Hospital, Secretary Gates will have to clean house at the Corps.”