Two groups are seeking a probe into whether the Army broke federal law by withholding documents about safety problems at a Tooele Army Depot chemical arms destruction plant.

The groups say the Army had refused to release an Army inspector general report requested through the Freedom of Information Act, saying it was exempt because it contained "internal predecisional recommendations and opinions."But after it was leaked to the press through unofficial channels - and first reported in the Deseret News - critics charged that the Army withheld it only because it was embarrassing.

The report also helped back up claims by whistle-blower Steve Jones, the former chief safety inspector for the plant, who says he was fired for refusing to gloss over the problems.

So the Kentucky-based Chemical Weapons Working Group (a coalition of citizens groups around chemical arms destruction sites) and the Government Accountability Project (which helps whistle-blowers) filed a complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which oversees compliance with the Freedom of Information Act.

The complaint seeks an investigation "to identify the official or officials within the Department of the Army who were responsible for the improper non-release" of the report and to seek disciplinary action against them.

It also says the report was "neither internal or predecisional but merely embarrassing."

Bob Schaeffer, spokesman for the Chemical Weapons Working Group, said, "The Department of Defense sat on it for 21/2 months solely because it confirmed what Steve Jones said."

Once the document was on the street, "The Defense Department said `Oh, we were just about to release it,' then released it the same day. It's a clear case of the politics behind the cover-up of problems at Tooele," Schaeffer told the Deseret News.

"We feel the Army was lying, to be blunt about it." added Jeff Ruch, with the Government Accountability Project.

View Comments

"In fact, the Army inspector general was performing a courtesy inspection (for the contractor). There was no decision to be made, it was not in the chain of command. . . . To be kind, the Army's rationale was disingenuous at best," Ruch said.

The Government Accountability Project - which has already filed a complaint with the Labor Department charging that Jones was improperly fired by the contractor running the Tooele plant - also announced it is filing a separate complaint with the Defense Department inspector general.

It charges that Jones was improperly "subjected to a pattern of retaliatory treatment" leading up to his firing for making problems at Tooele known to the media and the public.

The new $400 million Chemical Agent Demilitarization Facility is scheduled to begin burning chemical arms next September, but Army and plant officials both say they doubt the plant will begin operating on schedule.

Join the Conversation
Looking for comments?
Find comments in their new home! Click the buttons at the top or within the article to view them — or use the button below for quick access.