KANSAS CITY, Mo. - A Kansas City public relations firm "overcharged" and performed work of "limited value" when hired by the General Services Administration for a $234,000 publicity contract in the aftermath of an NBC Action News investigation, a report says.
The GSA hired Jane Mobley Associates in February 2010, which is when NBC Action News obtained an internal memo under the Freedom of Information Act showing officials were aware of employee concerns that they were getting sick and their colleagues were dying at an alarming rate.
Officials at the GSA had denied any knowledge of employee illness worries or toxin presence prior to the NBC Action News investigation into Bannister health concerns in November 2009.
The memo indicated a high level Kansas City GSA official, Mary Ruwwe, had warned Washington leaders months earlier about the possible political ramifications of employee health concerns in an e-mail titled "heads up."
The GSA Inspector General report found that Ruwwe, who also hired the PR firm, allowed JMA to write its own work order, and signed the deal the same day without considering other contractors.
Former worker Guy Beebe, who runs the website answersbannistercomplex.com , believes the investigation only scratched the surface.
"It leaves me with a complete sense that our government has failed," Beebe was a Marine stationed at Bannister. " I got more and more ill until I thought I was dieing."
He suffers from with gastric and breathing disorders which he believes were caused by toxins at the government office building.
In 2010, as our investigation identified more and more workers like him, Senator Kit Bond, (R-Mo), now retired, called for an investigation.
"What has happened at Bannister," Bond asked on the floor of the United States Senate. "What has gone on in the past? Who knew about it? "
And General Services Administration officials at Bannister hired P-R firm Jane Mobely Associates - at a cost of $234,000.
Thursday's GSA Inspector General report says the Kansas City P-R firm overcharged "in excess of $32,000" and that the government "received limited value for the work performed"
"People have died. Not just a few," Beebe said showing a picture of his ex-wife's father, who also was a Marine at Bannister. " This is Wilbur Clark. He died two months ago. Yes this is very personal."
We met Wilbur Clark in 2010. He was one of 27 former workers we identified with Sarcoidosis.
He believed he was dying because of the work he did at Bannister.
"I've been taken for a ride. I think we all have," Clark said in the 2010 interview. "I think the government has to try to make it good."
Clark died in October.
The public relations firm Bannister hired, Jane Mobely Associates, says it's headquartered in a Rivermarket office, but inside the building JMA lists on its website, a woman said the firm moved out in October.
Jane Mobely hasn't returned our calls.
GSA Regional Commissioner Mary Ruwwe hasn't returned our calls either.
She received $22,000 in bonus money over the two year period where she denied knowledge of the health concerns and ok'd the $234,000 P-R contract to deal with the aftermath.
The GSA issued a written statement Thursday saying: "We are committed to remedying the issues identified by the IG "
Last year, our investigation identified plutonium and nearly 900 other toxins at the Complex - where Honeywell makes parts for nuclear bombs.
Ruwwe did not respond to repeated requests for interviews submitted by NBC Action News to a GSA media officer, but the agency did release a written statement.
"We are committed to remedying the issues identified by the IG office in this report," said GSA Heartland Regional Administrator Jason Klumb. "Contracting is a significant part of our business on behalf of the federal government, and we have an obligation to the taxpayer to continually improve our internal controls and processes."
"Accountability matters," said Senator Claire McCaskill (D) Mo. "The government was overcharged for a public relations contract that never should have been awarded and taxpayers deserve to know."
The IG report also found JMA overcharged for the work "in excess of $32,000."
A woman who answered the phone at JMA said Jane Mobley is the only person at the agency who could comment on the contract.
Mobley did not respond.
To see our two year Bannister investigation, click here: http://www.nbcactionnews.com/generic/news/local_news/investigations/Topic-Investigators-Bannister