DOD: Engineers to Review Post-Katrina Pumps

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The Department of Defense will hire an independent engineering company to review allegations that pumps installed in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina weren't adequately tested and might fail during a hurricane.

Acting Inspector General Gordon Heddell said he has ordered his staff to begin work immediately on a contract to look at tests done before the Army Corps of Engineers installed the pumps, and at the pumps themselves.

It was not clear how long it would take.

"Based upon my review, and the need for public confidence in New Orleans' flood protection system, I have concluded that an outside opinion is warranted," Heddell wrote in an Aug. 8 letter to Scott Bloch of the U.S. Office of Special Counsel. A copy of the letter was sent to The Associated Press on Friday.

The special counsel office handles whistleblower complaints, including those by Corps engineer Maria Garzino, who cautioned in early 2006 that the pumps would not work properly.

Heddell's predecessor, former Inspector General Claude Kicklighter, found no criminal act or danger in the Corps' decision to install 34 pumps at canals before the 2006 hurricane season despite Garzino's objections. She had said they were the wrong size and might self-destruct when started.

Attorney William Bucknam said Moving Water Industries Corp. of Deerfield Beach, Fla., which provided the pumps under a $33 million contract, was confident it would be cleared of any wrongdoing.

"We will work closely with these independent reviewers to ensure that all issues are dealt with comprehensively and expeditiously and we are quite confident that when all is said and done, the end result will be the same as the previous investigations and audits," he wrote in an e-mailed statement that also challenged Garzino's qualifications.

The pumps had a flawed hydraulic system, Garzino wrote in a 44-page response to Kicklighter's May 14, 2008, report on the warnings.

On Thursday, Bucknam called her allegations "highly inventive, scurrilous and patently false," and said seven of nine investigations "have rejected outright Garzino's wild accusations."

The company said it clashed with Garzino from the outset because of her "unprofessional and disruptive conduct" when she monitored tests at a company facility in April 2006.

Corps leaders have acknowledged the pumps had flaws but insist they would work adequately and that all problems have been fixed. After the original pumps were installed, the Corps bought another six to be used to troubleshoot the defective ones.

Garzino wrote that her inspection found that more than 40 percent had failed or were failing. The inspector general's report "implies that 'operator error' was responsible for the mammoth hydraulic pump failures," she wrote. But, she continued, every known failure was while the manufacturer was "in sole possession of the equipment."

"If the pump manufacturer cannot operate the pumping equipment without causing massive and catastrophic failures of the hydraulic pump components, then it is not reasonable to expect the user to do a better job," she wrote.

In a letter to President Bush on Aug. 4, Bloch from the special counsel's office suggested the independent investigation. Heddell's letter followed four days later.

In his letter to Bloch, Heddell wrote, "I strongly agree that every effort must be made to assure the citizens of New Orleans that pumps designed for flood protection will perform as specified during hurricanes."