GSA official apologizes as audit finds Bannister agency misled sick workers and investigators
7:37 PM, Nov 8, 2010
7:51 PM, Nov 8, 2010
KANSAS CITY, Missouri - An Inspector General audit found officials at the Bannister Federal Complex operated a failed environmental program and misled workers and federal investigators about health concerns and toxins.
The General Services Administration’s Inspector General substantiated much of the evidence uncovered by an NBC Action News investigation launched in November 2009.
Officials initially denied knowledge of a list of sick and dead workers and accused NBC Action News of taking information out of context.
“I do apologize on behalf of GSA,” said GSA Regional Administrator Jason Klumb at a news conference Monday. “We have learned some lessons and we are getting things right."
The audit found the GSA operated a weak environmental program that was incapable of determining whether conditions prior to 2010 were safe.
“The problematic actions by the region indicate a lax environmental management program,” the audit found. “As a result, GSA cannot provide assurance that the Complex has historically been a safe and healthy workplace.”
The report indicates shortly after NBC Action News uncovered the health concerns and toxins at the facility, the GSA methods improved enough to determine current conditions pose no threat.
The Inspector General also determined officials had received, but largely ignored, a list of 90 sick or dead workers that employees compiled.
“The draft letter was not provided to the Acting Regional Administrator and no work on this issue was performed by the safety and environmental personnel until January 2010, after the environmental conditions at the Complex became the focus of media reports,” the IG report said.
The GSA denied knowledge of the list when NBC Action News confronted officials a year ago.
The NBC Action News investigation has since tallied more than 400 sick or dead workers.
About half work on the Honeywell side of the building where employees make parts for nuclear bombs.
Reaction from Capitol Hill was swift and harsh.
“This report should serve as an immediate wakeup call for the GSA,” said Senator Kit Bond (R-Missouri) in a statement. “The bureaucrats who mishandled information and failed to perform adequate safety tests as documented in the IG’s report should be held accountable.”
Bond demanded in Inspector General’s investigation when NBC Action News uncovered internal GSA documents contradicting the agency’s claims that it didn’t know of a list of sick and dead workers.
“I am greatly concerned by the report’s conclusions that employees’ concerns were not taken seriously,” Congressman Emanuel Cleaver (D-Missouri) said in a statement. “All of those faults are completely and utterly unacceptable,”
“Our review indicates that, not only did PBS environmental personnel fail to quickly take action and respond to concerns, they did not inform regional GSA management that these concerns were raised,” the audit stated.
The GSA’s regional administrator, who arrived after the NBC Action News investigation began, says sanctions of staff are possible.
“Individuals have offered their resignations to me,” said Klumb. I will not accept those. This is my responsibility."
The audit accuses the GSA of not only misleading employees, but of providing misleading information to federal investigators.
“(GSA) often provided erroneous and/or incomplete information to both the public and our office concerning environmental issues at the Complex,” the audit stated.”
“The people who have worked at Bannister have a right to be angry,” said Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) in a statement. “This IG report shows serious misjudgment on the part of the federal government, and I’ve spoken with the Public Buildings Commissioner at GSA about it.”
National GSA Administrator Martha Johnson has not responded to NBC Action News requests for comment. She has not spoken publically about the growing list of sick workers or health concerns at the facility.