KANSAS CITY, Missouri - An NBC Action News Investigation has uncovered Freedom of Information Act documents indicating three senior GSA officials linked to the Bannister death list were among thousands of General Service Administration employees who split $26 million in bonuses.
GALLERY | Faces of the Bannister Death List
Bannister official Mary Ruwwe, GSA’s regional commissioner of the Public Building Service, is one of the officials who just received her own payouts from the multi-million dollar bonus pool.
Ruwwe is the GSA official our investigation tied to the GSA death list while the agency was denying knowledge of such a list or worker health concerns.
Months before our investigation began, the GSA death list was attached to an e-mail Ruwwe sent to Washington officials.
NBC Action News obtained the internal e-mail through the Freedom of Information Act.
The recipients of the death list e-mail also received large bonuses .
The subject line on Ruwwe’s e-mail read "heads up.”
The e-mail disclosed to top GSA officials in Washington the existence of a worker generated list citing fears about cancer and toxins at the Bannister Federal Complex.
The list identified dead co-workers by name along with the sick and their illnesses.
But a GSA Inspector General Report identified no evidence that Ruwwe, nor anyone else, ever did anything to respond to worker fears.
The Inspector General report ruled GSA officials misled the public about health concerns at the complex.
The NBC Action News investigation has identified more than 400 sick or dead who worked at the complex which is shared with Honeywell.
IN MEMORIAM: FACES OF BANNISTER | FOLLOW THE FULL INVESTIGATION
Honeywell's manufacturing side of the facility makes parts for nuclear bombs in a classified program under contract with the National Nuclear Security Administration.
The date stamp on Ruwwe’s e-mail indicated she had possessed the death list at the same time that she, her staff, and other GSA officials continued to deny it.
According to records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, GSA rewarded Mary Ruwwe with $12,000 in bonuses the year she received the death list.
“No way,” said Barbara Rice, the sick worker who put together the death list GSA officials denied. “I don't understand how someone can get bonuses for denying information.’
As the GSA continued to deny knowledge of the death list, we ran our story exposing the e-mail where Ruwwe detailed the death list with Washington officials.
Shortly after that revelation, Senator Kit Bond demanded action on the Senate Floor .
The led to the entire complex being considered for placement on the National Priorities List of Superfund Sites and a Health Hazard Evaluation by Centers for Disease Control doctors.
As our investigation escalated, Ruwwe approved a $234,000 public relations campaign to manage media.
That contract is now under investigation by Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.).
“I am very disappointed at how GSA has dealt with this issue,” McCaskill said.
For her 2010 performance, the year Ruwwe approved that controversial P-R contract, GSA documents show she received another bonus, this time, $9.800.
“We've got to complete this investigation,” McCaskill said.
“I am both saddened and angry,” Rice said.
Ruwwe has denied our repeated requests for an interview.
GSA Administrator Martha Johnson also has declined to respond to our repeated requests for an interview.
“I don't dispute that mistakes were made,” said GSA Regional Administrator Jason Klumb. “I've acknowledged that again and again for months.”
Klumb established environmental testing agreements with the Environmental Protection Agency and called for the Centers for Disease Control to investigate employee health concerns soon after being appointed to the Regional Administrator job by President Obama.
He and Administrator Martha Johnson were appointed to their posts months after Ruwwe and other executives obtained the death list.
“I think it's important that we remain focused on the real issues at hand which are the concerns of individuals,” Klumb said.
Klumb refused to answer when asked whether his evaluation of Ruwwe’s work qualified her for a bonus.
He said the GSA evaluation system requires both his input as regional administrator and reviews by Washington officials of employee performance.
“I won't discuss individual personnel matters,” Klumb said. “The decision to pay bonuses is made at the DC level.”
At GSA headquarters in Washington, officials offered no explanation of how Ruwwe qualified for bonuses.
According to additional documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act she wasn’t alone. Every GSA official who either sent or received a copy of that 2009 death list received bonuses in both 2009 and 2010.
For the two year period, they totaled about $22,000 for Ruwwe , $32,000 for her boss, Anthony Costa , and about $49,000 for the former acting administrator Paul Prouty .
Shortly after we showed the bonus
information to McCaskill she called a hearing with Mary Ruwwe and GSA Administrator Martha Johnson on the witness list.
“This is a problem,” McCaskill said. “If someone has done that they don't deserve a bonus.”
The December 2010 $26,389,706 GSA bonuses were larger than in years past.
According to a GSA spokeswoman out of 12,886 total GSA employees, 10,622 received bonuses.
In 2009, the agency issued $25.7 million, $2 million more than 2008 bonuses which were $23.6 million , according to a GSA spokeswoman.
An analysis by the Asbury Park Press, based upon Freedom of Information Act records obtained by DataUniverse.com , indicated government bonuses are not uncommon.
The paper reported 2008 bonus payouts to be at least $400 million, but that doesn’t include the government’s entire payroll.
“We don’t get data on the Department of Defense, FBI, CIA and other security/nuclear agencies, or the White House, Congress and independent agencies,” said Asbury Park Press Editor Paul D'Ambrosio “My estimate is all these numbers represent about 70 percent of the government workforce.”
According to the DataUniverse.com analysis, out of more than 300 agencies, only the Federal Aviation Administration and the Veterans Health Administration reported larger bonus pools than the GSA’s $23.6 million in 2008.
The Social Security Administration workforce is six times the size of GSA’s, but the agency came in 63rd on the list with only about $1 million in bonuses, according to DataUniverse.com.
Emily Barocas, spokesperson said comparing agencies by bonus pools doesn’t fairly consider employee qualifications and job responsibilities.
“Every agency has a different function and the staff of each agency is comprised of employees with different skill levels, education and work experience,” Barocas said in a statement. “A more accurate comparison would be to look at the average bonus awarded to senior executive employees amongst the agencies, where GSA is actually below the average for the federal government.”
Barocas said the bonuses did not conflict with Obama’s call to freeze federal employee which the President issued two weeks prior to the GSA approving the $26 million bonus pool.
“The President’s freeze on salaries for federal employees went into effect for calendar year 2011,” Barocas said. “Agencies in the federal government moved forward with their nearly completed plans for 2010 awards. The freeze also only applies to base salaries. It didn’t eliminate awards.”
“Bonus awards for senior executives at the Public Buildings Service are based on a number of objective performance measures including meeting revenue and expense target, project delivery success, customer satisfaction, Recovery Act execution, and reduction in energy consumption,” said Ruwwe's boss, GSA Public Building Service Commissioner Bob Peck.
Missouri Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.) who chairs that committee that sets the GSA’s budget has also had her own concerns about the Heartland Region GSA Public Building Service that Mary Ruwwe leads.
A 2010 GSA Inspector General report indicates a GSA project to build a Federal courthouse in Emerson’s district was mired in a “conflict of interest issue related to project management” along with improper contract documentation.
Newspaper reports indicate the courthouse project price tag increased by $12 million.
The review faulted Heartland Region GSA leadership for rushing the project.
“We believe that this situation occurred because the Region 6 PBS project management personnel were primarily concerned with project completion as this project was already very far behind schedule,” the Inspector General Report said.
“The situation at the Bannister Federal Complex in Kansas City and the difficulties in completing the U.S. Courthouse in Cape Girardeau are not directly related, but they do give me cause for concern,” Emerson said. “The federal inquiry into these matters is extremely important, and I also very much appreciate the diligence of the GSA Inspector General in isolating these problems and reporting on them."
Emerson suggested the issues could impact agency spending decisions.
“It is more important now than ever that we eliminate abuse in the federal government wherever it exists while finding substantial cost savings,” Emerson said. “No one should be rewarded for facilitating a management climate in which contracting rules are not adhered to, let alone matters of health and safety for the occupants of federal buildings.”
A spokeswoman says Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) is requesting a meeting with GSA Administrator Johnson.
The Senator will "express his concerns and request more detailed information surrounding the health risks here," said Blunt Spokeswoman Amber Marchand.
McCaskill is focusing on the decision to hire a publicity firm.
“From the beginning, this PR contract raised serious questions about how the federal government was spending money to minimize bad publicity in situations like this,” McCaskill said in
a statement announcing hearings on the matter. “I’m eager to hear from those who were part of this decision,” McCaskill said.
McCaskill has asked both Johnson and Ruwwe to appear to testify in hearings scheduled for March 1.
At the writing of this report, our investigation has identified 139 dead former workers from the facility that family members or co-workers suspect were made ill by toxins.
If you suspect your family member has gotten ill as a result of a connection to the Bannister Federal Complex, please contact Investigative Reporter Russ Ptacek at email@example.com .
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