U.S. OFFICE OF SPECIAL COUNSEL TRANSMITS REPORT SUBSTANTIATING WHISTLEBLOWER’S ALLEGATIONS OF PUBLIC HEALTH AND SAFETY DANGER IN DRINKING WATER
AT CALIFORNIA CAMPGROUND
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - 7/25/02
CONTACT: JANE MCFARLAND
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) today transmitted to President Bush and the Congress, an investigative report substantiating a whistleblower’s allegations that, during April 2000, the Liberty Glen Water Treatment Plant, Lake Sonoma, produced non potable water, causing a substantial and specific danger to public health and safety. The Liberty Glen Water Treatment Plant, which is operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps), provides water for the Liberty Glen Campground in Geyserville, California. The report also substantiated the whistleblower’s allegation that a Liberty Glen Water Treatment Plant Operator violated the California Surface Water Treatment Regulations by submitting falsified documents to the California Department of Health Services (CDHS) for the month of April 2000.
Special Counsel Elaine Kaplan transmitted information provided by James L. Browning, a Maintenance Worker and Water Treatment Plant Operator, to the Secretary of the Army for investigation after concluding that there was a substantial likelihood that the information disclosed a substantial and specific danger to public health and safety and a violation of law, rule, or regulation. By law, where the
Special Counsel makes such a substantial likelihood determination with respect to a whistleblower’s disclosures, the agency involved, in this case the Department of the Army, is required to conduct an investigation of the disclosures and report its findings and any planned corrective and/or disciplinary actions to the Special Counsel.
Mr. Browning alleged to OSC that, during the month of April 2000 when
Danny Summit, Water Treatment Plant Operator, was operating the plant, the Liberty Glen Water Treatment Plant produced water that was not in compliance with title 22,
§ 64653 of the California Code of Regulations (C.C.R.) and, therefore, was not fit for human consumption. Mr. Browning maintained that the 7-day circular turbidity charts for this time period show that the turbidity level of the water produced by the plant consistently exceeded the limits established by regulation. Mr. Browning also alleged that Mr. Summit filed an inaccurate surface water treatment regulation form with the CDHS for April 2000, in violation of 22 C.C.R. §§ 64662 and 64664. The form Mr. Summit submitted to the CDHS indicated that the water treatment plant was shut down from April 21, 2000, through April 31, 2000; however, Mr. Browning alleged that the water treatment plant was operational on those dates. The agency report found these allegations to be verified by the water treatment plant’s daily log, turbidity charts, and other plant records. In addition, the report concluded that Mr. Summit lacked the training and expertise necessary to safely operate the water treatment plant.
Mr. Browning further alleged that Perry Crowley, Park Manager, endangered the public’s health and safety by failing to take appropriate corrective action after Mr. Browning notified him of Mr. Summit’s misconduct. The agency report found that, given the extent of Mr. Crowley’s experience operating water treatment plants, he should have been capable of determining whether Mr. Summit was sufficiently trained to run the plant. Thus, the report concluded that Mr. Crowley’s failure to take appropriate action contributed to the creation of a substantial and specific danger to public health and safety.
The agency report also included a description of actions taken or planned in response to the investigation initiated by OSC, as well as prior investigations conducted by the State of California. Among other actions taken, the report states that: (1) the Corps permanently closed the Liberty Glen Water Treatment Plant in 2000 and plans to dismantle it within the next two years; (2) Mr. Summit voluntarily surrendered his water treatment plant operator’s license and is no longer involved in the operation of water treatment plants; and (3) Mr. Crowley was counseled by the San Francisco District Commander and was required to attend further leadership training.
In transmitting the agency report to the President and the Congress, the Special Counsel is required by statute to evaluate whether it contains the necessary information and whether its findings appear reasonable. Special Counsel Elaine Kaplan found the Department of the Army report met these requirements. She also found that the agency has taken appropriate corrective action with respect to the report’s findings.
Among its other functions, the Office of Special Counsel provides federal employees with a secure channel for blowing the whistle on violations of law, rule or regulation, gross
mismanagement, gross waste of funds, an abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health and safety. The OSC requires agencies to conduct investigations whenever it finds a substantial likelihood that a federal employee’s disclosures demonstrate the existence of one of these conditions. The agency must then report its findings as well as any corrective action taken to OSC. After OSC reviews the report to ensure that it contains the necessary information and that its findings appear reasonable, OSC transmits the report to the President and the Congress for further action, if appropriate.
Copies of the Department of the Army’s report and the Special Counsel’s transmittal letter can be obtained by contacting OSC.