Fix the pumps

Friday, June 29, 2007

Cover up, Part 2

In Part 1 of this report, we detailed Colonel Bedey's lie on national television about full performance testing of the pumps and drives. Bedey claimed the Corps had "decided" in the spring of 2006 to move that testing from the Florida factory of MWI to the worksites in New Orleans.

We demonstrated the transparent falsity of that lie by looking at actual contract documents, emails, and analysis within the internal Corps floodgate pumps report. All of those sources show that Corps had no intention of conducting full performance testing at the worksites. They also show that there has not been any full performance testing at the sites for over a year, a clear violation of the contract. Colonel Bedey made up out of whole cloth the fiction that full performance testing would be conducted in New Orleans. The lack of such testing is a serious shortfall in the performance of the contract.

In this part, we'll look at the implications of the lack of full performance testing, as well as the Corps' actions in trying to avoid doing such testing.

What does the lack of full performance testing mean?

For one thing, it completely undercuts all of the Corps New Orleans District's reassurances about how great the pumps are working. The fact is they have no way to determine whether all of the pumps are working up to spec, because through their inaction they have illegally de facto eliminated that part of the contract.

Remember what the internal investigation says about full performance testing of all the pumps:
"This testing was not performed in accordance with the contract requirements and a significant credit is due to the Government for the nonperformance of it"

This is in the present tense, i.e. the full performance testing was not performed as of June, 2007. Perhaps that's why Bedey said earlier in the interview (see my June 13th post) that the internal report was a snapshot of September, 2006 conditions: he was clumsily trying to undercut the fact that for over a year, he and the people under his command and their supplier have likely colluded to avoid enforcement of a vital aspect of the pump supply contract. Enforcement of that provision - and its probable results that the pumps don't meet the spec (see below for backup on that) - would likely land the Corps and MWI in court, and due to the New Orleans District's cruddy recordkeeping, MWI might win.

But what about all the testing the Corps says they've run? They say the pumps are ready

All those dog and pony shows the Corps has run for the local media, which the media then turns into b-roll footage for the nightly news... none of them were actual performance tests over the entire range of the pumps' required flows and heads. Bedey admitted in the press briefing when the internal report was released that none of the latest round of "tests" went longer than 45 minutes. There's no way one could run a satisfactory flow test in such a brief time.

The Corps' own press release from May 31, 2007 (just a few weeks ago) refers to them as "demonstrations." That's also a term that appears in the very vague section on field testing in the original contract (a section that was taken straight from MWI's own specifications). It's probably a key semantic difference in Corps-speak which is conveniently left unexplained to the layman. Dollars to doughnuts, a "demonstration" does not qualify as a full performance test. But the Corps is perfectly happy muddying the waters for the unitiated.

In running all these "demonstrations," and in not performing the contract as it is written, the New Orleans District has decided not to determine if what the taxpayers have spent millions of dollars on actually meets the specification! It also appears that in portraying the demonstrations as legitimate performance tests (schizophrenic, or maybe duplicitous, quote from Corps May 31 press release: "they've been successfully tested"), there has been a coordinated effort to cover up the lack of full performance testing.

Why not run the full performace tests?

Why wouldn't the New Orleans District and MWI want to know for sure if the pumps meet the spec? Why not yank every one of the pumps out one at a time, along with their twinned drive unit, mount them on a barge in the lake, and run 'em like they're supposed to be run under Hydraulic Institute testing standards? That is, why not test the pumps through their entire range of performance as they were specified?

The internal investigation also provides that answer: the pumps don't meet the specification. According to previously unreported limited, but pretty rigorous, pump testing performed late last year (internal report Attachment #3) and earlier this year (Attachment #13) by Corps hydraulic scientists, all the pumps fall below the requirements for flow. In factory testing last fall, when a new pump curve was generated (where was the certified version from MWI?), the shortfall was in some cases over 5%.

In field tests just two months ago at London Avenue, the numbers were much worse, with capacity shortfalls of over 50%. The Corps researcher guessed that the April, 2007 London Avenue results were due to poorly calibrated flowmeters or perhaps bad placement of the flowmeters, and used the pump curve generated in the fall testing to determine flow (using the pump curve, the Corps researcher again called out about a 5% flow shortfall for the April test). But that pump curve itself has errors and scatter, meaning the error in the April test was compounded.

[Special aside on flowmeters:

The London Avenue tests used acoustic flowmeters placed on the 9'-0" manifolds, just as I had suggested was the best place for them in my May 1 post. Even so, the Corps researcher got pretty cruddy results.

It is instructive that the Corps researcher in April, 2007 (just two months ago) did not depend upon the readouts from the individual flowmeters already installed on 5'-0" discharges of the pumps, but instead installed new flowmeters just for the test. That says to me that the meters on the 5'-0" discharges are - as I suspected - worthless. Keep in mind those are the meters whose results give Bedey the Wheaties to make his pronouncements that everything's shipshape. Thus, Bedey's full of it.

The poor showing of the meters on the 9'-0" tubes also reinforces the notion that the ones on the 5'-0" discharges aren't giving good data. If the Corps researcher couldn't get good results with 4 diameters of runup to the meters (the approximate amount at London's 9'-0" manifold pipes), how in the world could meters with just 1 diameter of runup (those that are installed on the individual 5'-0" pump discharges) be expected to give anything but garbage?

Besides all that, though, there remains the question of whether the meters in the April test were way off - and their results can be dismissed - or whether the Corps researcher was just engaged in guesswork as to the results of a 50% capacity decrease. He refused to express confidence in any flowmeter readings at the floodgates when I spoke with him recently, and said it was still a subject of much debate. He also said he didn't want to seem like he was "covering anything up," but that he needed to go through channels before he discussed anything further. I told him that we already deep into hurricane season, and the time for "channels" was long past.]

Frankly, the Corps has no real idea how much water is flowing through the pumps (because they don't trust the flowmeters that are in place now - where have I heard that before?), but they are sure it's less than what it's supposed to be. In any case, there's no real basis for Colonel Bedey to pronounce that the pumps are working as designed.

Spread over the 18 units at 17th Street, a 5% capacity decrease means there's effectively only 17 pumps there. A 50% capacity decrease ... well I think you can figure out how bad that is. That's hardly good value, and is indicative of very poor engineering and even worse stewardship over the funds of the taxpayers.

Any other reasons the Corps wouldn't want full testing?

There's the obvious one: when subjected to similar testing for a week in Florida, the pumps failed at a spectacularly high rate.

They also failed to meet the specification for flow and head in that testing.

All of that is laid out in Ms. Garzino's memo, the shop inspection records, and in the internal report. All of them describe numerous failures throughout use of the pumps over a long timespan. Again, that's hardly good value.

Pulling the threads together

Colonel Bedey lied repeatedly in his interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper on June 11th. His biggest whopper - that the pumps would be performance tested in New Orleans instead of Florida - is undercut by a mountain of direct and indirect evidence. In fact, not only was the performance testing not moved, it has never been performed at all.

Bedey's lie also unspools - and perhaps help explain - a disturbing series of events.

1) After just one week of full performance testing, that testing was stopped on the authority of individuals who were not allowed to make such a change.

2) Then, for the last year, the Corps New Orleans District (NOD) has decided not to enforce the provision of the contract requiring full performance testing of all pumps, and they have not documented such a substantial change in the normal Corps way - i.e. they are operating outside of normal Corps channels without authorization to do so.

3) Instead, the Corps NOD is holding public "demonstrations" of the pump systems which are portrayed to the public (through the media and the New Orleans District Public Affairs office) as adequate performace tests in conformance with the contract.

4) The few semi-rigorous, non-"demonstration" tests done on the pumps since their installation show them falling below the required head and flow as called out in the contract. The first testing that showed the shortfall happened April, 2006. And then there was testing in November, 2006, and then more testing in April, 2007. Shouldn't they be following up on this?

6) The New Orleans District is making millions of dollars in poorly documented payments to a supplier that - according to the Corps' own hydraulic scientists and engineers - did not deliver what was specified.

7) The New Orleans District contracting office is acting as extremely poor stewards of public funds, leaving out - or perhaps not even creating - the required justifications for many of the over 30 modifications to the pump supply contract. They then refused to turn over a complete accounting of the project to the internal investigators:
"The Contracting Officer was requested on 11 April 2007 to provide a total dispursement screen from CEFMS to verify the actual expenditures to date on this contract. This was not provided to the Artman Team by the Contracting Officer." [Adobe pages 21-22, internal report]

Does any of this sound like the normal way to run a project? No, of course not.

But it does sound like the way potential indictees act when they are trying to hide their actions.

All of this - the cruddy accounting, the poor recordkeeping, the willingness to turn a blind eye to supplier inadequecies, the lies to the public - it all points to a cover-up of likely motivations - people in the Corps (Bedey, St. Germain, Bradley) were so interested in getting MWI's equipment on site and portraying it as non-defective that they would do anything for over a year to dupe the public into believing they were protected. Surely they should lose their jobs for this.

How in the world can the people of New Orleans, the federal government, those within the Corps, and anyone else trust these folks to build a functioning flood protection system when they engage in unethical behavior and skirt the law and their own regulations?

In light of the lives and property at stake in New Orleans, what could possibly motivate a person so strongly to do such things? I'm pretty sure only subpoenas are going to let us know the complete truth. I hope the Justice Department is paying attention.

If the Corps wishes to dispute this, then they need to make the involved persons (specifically Maria Garzino, Jim St. Germain, and Dan Bradley) available to do so. Anything else is just bloviation and spin.


Post a Comment

<< Home

Go to older posts Go to newer posts