Fix the pumps

Thursday, May 10, 2007


- Corps admits to copying & pasting, but says it's not really their fault. Their paid consultants did it.
- Newly revealed: Pump contract has been under Corps investigation for over eight months, report due this month
- MWI tried to downgrade pump testing before testing even started

Anyone who really reads my blog carefully knows that almost everything on it relies on primary source information - either my own observations or original documents. Today, I've got two more documents.

1) The Corps defends copying and pasting - kind of

The first document is the Corps' May 2nd response to Senator Vitter's April 13th inquiry regarding the copying & pasting of MWI's specs into the Corps' January 13, 2006 bid solicitation for the original 34 floodgate hydraulically-powered pumps, as well as the same practice getting employed for the Corps' June 9, 2006 follow-on solicitation for 23 more hydraulically-powered pumps.

The public doesn't usually see the responses to letters from members of Congress to various agencies. That's why this is so interesting.

I personally find it a fascinating glimpse into how the Corps acts when their hand is caught inside the cookie jar. Their defense basically boils down to, "Sure we copied the specs, but we copied them from both MWI's catalog and FPI's catalog. And also, it wasn't us doing the copying; it was those consultants we hired." So tell me URS and Linfield Hunter (and any mechanical subconsultants hired by you), how does it feel getting thrown under the bus?

The Corps letter makes no mention of the June specification being copied & pasted, despite its explicit inclusion in Vitter's original letter.

What's also realllly interesting is that the letter also reveals the existence of a previously unreported Corps internal investigation which has apparently been underway since September, 2006. That is, all the time the Corps has been reassuring the public that everything was fine, they themselves have been looking into the pump problems. Objectively, this is a good thing. When problems crop up, it is a good thing to look into them. Except that the Corps was aware of serious problems since at least April, 2006, almost six months before the official internal investigation launched. Also, they've never mentioned their internal investigation to the public, and we wouldn't know about it without my releasing this letter.

The letter says that the internal investigation is rolling toward a conclusion at the same time as the GAO investigation - this month. I hope some enterprising reporter goes after the results of the Corps internal investigation...

The letter also shows evidence of General Strock or his staff not being given complete information. It claims that FPI wasn't technically strong. That's not completely true. FPI was told directly by the Corps during their debriefing (the meeting after the contract award that was quoted in the AP article) that - other than problems with their engine suppliers' delivery dates (the suppliers' dates apparently didn't match FPI's assurances for delivery) and the fact that FPI had specified three different engine manufacturers (the Corps thought that could lead to maintenance and spare parts problems down the line, even though there's nothing in the spec specifically forbidding different engine suppliers) - the technical aspects of their proposal were perfectly adequate.

Let me also address the contention that FPI's specs are just about the same as MWI's...

FPI makes hydraulic pumps very similar to MWI. Both companies have a complicated, intertwined history. And it is true that the specification that FPI uses for their hydraulic pumps with skid mounted engines, found here on FPI's website, bears a striking similarity to MWI's spec in many respects, probably due to that intertwined history. However, the FPI section on piping actually has a callout (left blank for the customer to insert) for the pipe diameter (MWI and the Corps did not call out the piping diameter), its testing section only includes two of the five paragraphs found in MWI's spec (dynamic factory testing is not even mentioned in FPI's spec), and the FPI spec is missing many other passages found in both MWI's and the Corps' spec. It is extremely unlikely that FPI, or any of the other bidders, thought the Corps' spec was anything but based on MWI's spec.

For reference, you can read many other FPI specs at this page on their website. The specs are found in the left hand column.

2) Shop inspection reports

I got a big manilla envelope in the mail yesterday. It was the results of a FOIA request I made last December. I requested all the shop inspection reports - including photos - written up by personnel from the Corps Jacksonville District while they were stationed as Quality Assurance personnel at MWI's facilities in Florida during 2006. Some of those reports were attached to Maria Garzino's memo, but the photos were low res, and not every report was included as an attachment by Ms. Garzino.

I now have all the reports (well most of them - the Corps may have held a few back - I've still got to check). They're pretty dense, but the pictures are pretty amazing. Also, it seems MWI was looking to back out of their own testing requirements even before the testing started.

What follows is a quote from Shop Inspection #5, which took place April 8, 2006. The first tests on the pumps and engines were on April 11, 2006.

"3. The Contractor's Testing plans for both the Dry (Static) testing and the Wet (Dynamic) testing discussed. On Friday, 7 April 2006, Mr. [redacted] requested a variance to the 90-minute dry (static) test to be changed to 90 seconds. he has requested this variance through the New Orleans District. As of Saturday, 8 April 2006, he has not received a decision. No dry testing will be conducted until further direction from New Orleans is received..."

This particular change was never implemented. However, one has to wonder why MWI was looking to downgrade their own testing specs even before testing started. One also has to wonder whether the Contracting Officer (Ms. Cynthia Nicholas) was who MWI was contacting for changes, since the Contracting Officer is the only person legally authorized to approve such changes.

Update, 6/3/07: The shop inspection reports are now available online in this June 3, 2007 post.


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