Like the latest Hollywood release, a secretive Army document now being distributed publicly is in the hands of critics who are giving it mixed reviews.
The document is a 15-page report by the Army's inspector general that lists more than 80 deficiencies at the Tooele Chemical Agent Disposal Facility, which is scheduled to become the first chemical weapons incineration plant to be operational on the U.S. mainland.The report details missing policies and procedures, safety deficiencies and an absence of plans for dealing with waste the plant will generate, to name a few.
The Army and the plant's contractor say the criticisms are an expected and even asked-for part of the plant-testing process. A whistleblower fired from the plant says it verifies his complaints. And a national military watchdog group is having a heyday circulating copies of the report, saying it supports their complaints, too, about the Army's plans to incinerate its stockpile of chemical weapons.
The Army has made it clear it did not want the document released. Even the Utah Division of Environmental Quality, which controls operation permits for the plant, couldn't get the Army to show it the report, said Solid and Hazardous Waste Director Dennis Downs.
But the Army quickly changed its mind after clandestine copies of the report started popping up Thursday.
Whistleblower Steve Jones, fired from his job as the plant's safety chief in September, filed complaints with the Army and state, saying the plant was riddled with safety hazards and that he was fired for criticizing the plant.
An Army safety team investigated 119 of Jones' safety complaints and returned a summary conclusion the plant is "about where it should be" in the current stage of preoperational testing and that workers at the plant are not working in an unsafe environment.
The inspector general's report is consistent with the safety team's
report, the Army's chemical demilitarization and remediation division said Thursday.
Henri Silvestri, president and general manager of EG&G - the defense contractor - said Jones' two complaints were that he was discriminated against in his job and that the plant was not safe and that he has proved neither.
The Environmental Protection Agency has denied his discrimination claim, and the inspector general's report simply points to the process of preoperational testing designed to expose flaws so they can be fixed, said Tim Thomas, the Army's project manager at the Tooele plant.
Thomas said some points of the report on which Jones claims victory are comments Thomas and EG&G don't necessarily support.
The report says lessons learned at the Army's test plant on Johnston Atoll in the Pacific were not transferred to Tooele, for example. "We've incorporated more than 1,000 lessons learned into this project, and we're continuing to change," Thomas said.
Downs said the Army would not give him the inspector general's report until after it learned copies were already being circulated. But now that he has seen it, "There is nothing new in the IG report that we hadn't already been aware of," he said. "It is helpful to the extent that we know the Army is aware of the same (concerns) we're aware of."
The Utah Occupational Safety and Health Division issued 14 citations to EG&G after conducting an inspection at Jones' request. None of the citations carried a fine, and all were classified as minor.
Downs will have an announcement Tuesday when his department releases its findings in the last of the series of investigations initiated at Jones' request.
"If things need to be changed, we'll change them," Downs said. "We have no interest in holding the Army up and preventing them from meeting their schedules. On the other hand, if it takes longer to ensure the safety of the plant, then it will take longer."
In the meantime, Jones is calling the release of the inspector general's report a victory, saying the Army has been labeling the plant as safe and ready to operate and has only acknowledged the litany of unsolved problems after he made them public.
"They bragged that they were ready," Jones said Friday. "Now all they're doing is damage control."