When it was announced in March that Kristin Shott, a 36-year-old welder at the Naval Air Depot on North Island, had won an award for blowing the whistle on a long history of faulty welds made by unqualified tradesmen working on the pride of America's carrier fleet, the USS Abraham Lincoln -- along with the Stennis, the Constellation, and the Nimitz -- the Navy quickly launched a campaign of damage control.
"The whistleblower is part of the system, and we're pleased that it worked," North Island's Captain Peter Laszcz told one of the several TV news reporters to show up at the base as a result of a news release touting Shott's award from the Washington-based U.S. Office of Independent Counsel. "Once we became aware of that,we took immediate steps to stop all work, inspect the work we had done, and fix the work once we found out it wasn't up to standards."
Shott had long labored on the catapult hydraulic piping systems, which are used to fling the nation's multimillion-dollar jet fighters and their crews from the carrier decks into battle, as well as the jet-blast deflector doors that are raised and lowered during takeoff operations. The only woman in a shop called the Voyage Repair Team, Shott's repeated complaints to civilian supervisors and their naval officer superiors went nowhere, until they finally caught the attention of special counsel Elaine D. Kaplan, a lawyer who took that job in May 1998 after being nominated to a five-year term by President Bill Clinton.
About the same time she signed off on the award for Shott, Kaplan also went to bat for Bogdan Dzakovic, an ex-special agent with the Federal Aviation Administration's "Red Team," a crew of undercover security agents who were supposed to penetrate airport security and find shortcomings. Dzakovic alleged the program was grossly mismanaged and was rewarded by being hastily shuffled to an obscure agency job by Admiral James Loy, then undersecretary of transportation security.
Reportedly, neither the Shott award nor the Dzakovic investigation made Democrat Kaplan popular with the Navy and elsewhere in the Bush administration and the Republican Congress. Though the Shott story got virtually no play in the San Diego Union-Tribune, it did garner local TV coverage and made big headlines in the Daily Press of Newport News, along with other papers in cities where bases and Navy repair facilities are located.
That appears to be just what Kaplan intended. She set up the Public Servant Award program in 2001, raising the profile of the Office of Special Counsel, which had until then concentrated on enforcing the Hatch Act, the ban against federal employees involving themselves in political activities. Shott was the whistleblowing honor's fourth recipient, and what she alleged didn't make the Navy look good. A subsequent Navy investigation sustained many of her claims.
"On the USS Abraham Lincoln, [investigators] found that only 2 out of approximately 100 welds passed their inspection; on the USS Nimitz, only one weld out of approximately 100 passed," noted Kaplan's release heralding Shott's award. "The team also found the Voyage Repair Team welders had performed nonconforming welds on the USS Constellation and USS John C. Stennis' catapult hydraulic systems and on the USS Carl Vinson's jet blast deflector cylinder vent piping. The agency report explains that most of the nonconforming welds failed inspection because they were undersized.
"The agency report concluded that four supervisors and one Naval Officer had performed their duties in a negligent manner. It found that the North Island Voyage Repair Team first-line supervisor was aware that the Voyage Repair Team employees were not properly certified, yet he failed to aggressively pursue this issue through his chain of command and continued to assign Voyage Repair Team welders work that he knew they were unqualified to perform. As a result, he was suspended for three days. A Non-Punitive Letter of Caution was issued to the Naval Officer who oversaw the quality assurance program. Two civilian Voyage Repair Team supervisors and one civilian quality assurance supervisor were counseled and orally admonished."
Over on North Island, neither welder Shott nor her champion Kaplan are very popular. Though no one will say so for the record, top Navy brass there and back in Washington are said to be angry about what they claim is Kaplan's "liberal meddling" and the timing of the Shott announcement on the eve of war with Iraq. Though the Navy argued it had rooted out the problems, Kaplan said she was not satisfied with the Navy's response to Shott's allegations and issued a follow-up recommendation to the president, asking for a more exhaustive investigation of North Island and the Navy brass there.
"Disciplinary action taken against responsible officials did not appear adequate in light of the gravity of their misconduct," Kaplan said, noting that the Navy "has not yet scheduled welding and NDT inspection audits for West Coast NAVAIR locations." According to her March 13 news release, "These audits are critical to the extent that they may allow the Navy to discover and repair other noncompliant welds on Navy vessels, that may otherwise pose a danger to public safety."
But Kaplan will not be around to follow up. Last week, she resigned her position as special counsel after it became obvious George W. Bush would not reappoint her. Next month she will join the D.C. law firm of Bernabei and Katz, a plaintiffs' practice specializing in sexual harassment and whistleblowers. "In these times of heightened concern about national security, it is very important that OSC be viewed as a credible, non-partisan advocate on behalf of [federal employee] whistleblowers," Kaplan said in her farewell message, adding she hoped "this goal, among others, has been achieved during my tenure, and that it will continue to be given a high priority."
All of which leaves Shott, who lives in Oceanside with her husband, also a North Island worker, in more than a bit of limbo. She's been removed as a welder in Voyage Repair. Even before Kaplan departed, Shott says she knew her career at North Island was virtually finished, and she's filed a civil suit against the government, alleging sexual harassment by her fellow workers. Recently she sat down in her lawyer's Sorrento Valley office to talk about what she argues is a heavy-maintenance system gone completely out of control and then covered up, jeopardizing the lives of Navy pilots and carrier crewmembers.
Matt Potter: Let's just start with a general bio about you...where you were born, where you grew up.
Kristin Shott: I grew up in Vallejo, California, which is a nuclear submarine town, small town. I started working for a nuclear submarine base called Mare Island in 1983 -- I was approximately 15 years old -- until it closed, due to base closures, and then I transferred here to San Diego to [meet] at North Island.
MP: So you were 15 when you started to work?
MP: What kind of work?
KS: I started doing secretarial, and then I went into welding on nuclear submarines, and then I transferred down here as a welder.
MP: How did you get interested in welding? How did that happen?
KS: Well, the base was going into BRAC [Base Realignments and Closures], so they were having a lot of layoffs. And one of my supervisors had mentioned to me that my position was being targeted for abolishment and the apprenticeship program had opened and that I should take the test, so I took the test. It just kind of accelerated for me going from white collar to blue collar, which was a great change. I was really glad I did it.
MP: And that was '83?
KS: Um, yes. I became a welder in '88 or '89, somewhere around there and have been ever since.
MP: And how do you train for that? How did you get certified?
KS: They have an apprenticeship program that's in collaboration with the junior college there. It's a collaborative effort with the Navy and the colleges in that area.
MP: Were your folks in the Navy?
KS: No, but both my parents worked for the military, for either Mare Island or Alameda. Both bases, of course, are closed now, so...
MP: Did you graduate from high school?
KS: Oh, yes. I graduated from high school and then went to college, and eventually I was picked up permanently at Mare Island and then went into the apprenticeship.
MP: When you first went to work at 15, you were still in high school then?
MP: So it was like a part-time job?
KS: A student-aid program.
MP: Oh, I see.
KS: And then from there, I just continued into college.
MP: And what college did you go to?
KS: Solano Community College.
MP: And so did you get an AA from that?
KS: I'm one class away but I'm going back into college at the end of this month, actually, to continue my bachelor of science degree.
MP: And, the apprenticeship -- was that part of the community college program?
KS: Yes. A collaborative effort with Mare Island.
MP: And so, after you got your certification, you became a welder? Is that how it works?
KS: Well, it's a four-year program. You go through a four-year training program along with college-required courses, trade-related courses. And then after the four years, I graduated.
MP: Four years of college and...?
KS: And hands-on training. There's certain levels of the welding program that you had to qualify at each level before you're promoted up into the, you know, final grade of [mechanics].
MP: That's a standard thing that everybody that works for the Navy, theoretically, goes through?
KS: Well, for nuclear submarine bases, yes. No, it's not a standard. They are picking up the practice here in San Diego. They just started the apprenticeship program at my agency probably about eight months ago. They started it back up when they finally realized that, you know, the skills that they're required aren't meeting government standards, so they have gone back into the apprenticeship program, yes, for San Diego. I think they had been out for, like, 15 years. But a lot of the larger shipyards do have apprenticeships. Bremerton [in Washington state] has a very large one and, of course, my base did. Nuclear submarine bases are very specialized because of pressure and stuff on the submarines. You have to be extremely trained at the highest level possible.
KS: You know, so you don't have any casualties, of course.
KS: There's a lot of work involved in it.
MP: So you did that in...you worked up there until what year?
KS: Um, 1994. Until I transferred down here, or 1995. I don't even remember! I think it's 1995. October 1995.
MP: And on the submarines you just did, sort of, any kind of welding, or are there specialties?
KS: Well, I went through a lot of different types of training. You know, you have certain levels during your apprenticeship. You have your first level, which is just basic structure welding. And then you end up doing, like, patch crews and pipe welding, which are more specialized. So, I finished all of my phases through there, yes. So I did get a lot of the specialized training.
MP: So you could rotate around and do different things?
KS: Correct, correct. And then I worked a lot on target teams, where I was traveling quite a bit too. And there was different certifications for a different type of year with different types of metal that were required through the Navy.
MP: Were there a lot of women there, or were you one of many or one of few?
KS: At Mare Island, I think we had approximately 10 females out of 500 when I first started. Here I'm the only female! And it really shows. There's not too many females in the structural trades here, and I've noticed a lot of animosity. Yeah, it's pretty amazing.
MP: But up there, was it different? Was the environment different?
KS: Northern California is night and day from Southern California. Yes, you could really see the difference! There's more females, I would say, in Northern California than Southern California in the trades, definitely. Definitely a large attitude difference.
MP: So even way back then in '83, like, 20 years ago?
KS: I didn't really notice it at Mare Island. It's when I came down here is when I noticed more of the discriminated attitudes towards females in the trades. Up there I think it was more common, so people were adjusted to it already by the time I got into the field.
MP: When you left there in '94, was it still about 10 women for the 500 people or had they grown?
KS: When I left it was probably lower.
KS: Yeah. You know, my position's very physical, so, you know, a lot of the women that get into it, you either have to be able to accept the responsibilities as any man can, or you don't and you transfer out. So I've seen a lot of women who just felt it was too physical, so they went into other trades. But I prefer welding. I love welding, so I'm not going to switch over.
MP: Did they still have the apprenticeship program? Is that still basically in place, the one that you went through?
KS: They do this in Bremerton.
MP: Up there?
KS: At the shipyard there, it is. It's identical to the type that I went through. The one here at North Island that they're starting now, there's a lot of subtle changes that I don't know -- I don't see that they're more specialized towards the trade. I see it's more specialized toward, um, the college aspect. The trade of my caliber takes at least a good ten years to really start to get proficient in it. It's not an overnight process. It takes a long time.
MP: So you worked a little on subs here, but not a lot?
KS: ...I worked a lot of subs here for Mare Island. At North Island I did not work on any submarines. Destroyers, aircraft carriers, helicopters, and airplanes, and mobile facilities, of course. Everything but subs!
MP: Everything but.
MP: So you came down and, well, you said early that you noticed a change in climate or atmosphere.
KS: Oh, yes.
MP: Did you notice that right away, or what was your initial impression when you came down here?
KS: I noticed it right off the bat, that it was... I don't know, it's really hard when you -- a lot of people were really amazed that I was a female welder. It just kind of blew everybody away: management and workers alike. They'd never worked with a female in my trade. There's a lot of, like, machinists that are females, but not ones that actually go on the job sites. So, it's pretty unusual. Overwhelming!
MP: Right here.
MP: Yeah. And how did that manifest itself?
KS: Um, it depended on the actual person. There was a lot of hostilities for certain types, the older men I noticed seemed to be really hostile, old school. You know, women are supposed to be pregnant in the kitchen; a lot of people have mentioned that to me. I've learned to basically ignore a lot of it. And then you have the other ones that just don't feel I have a right to be here, in their trade, and they feel threatened. Especially at my skills, you know. If I meet the same standard as them, they feel threatened, and it becomes a hostility issue.
MP: Do they make remarks?
KS: Oh, yes!
MP: Like what? What do they say?
KS: "Why're you doing a man's job?" I shouldn't be in the trades, and I'd be better off being behind a desk, and I'm beating up my body, and da-da-da. You know. And then, of course, I'm always sleeping with somebody! You know, the rumors: if I get along with a coworker, the next thing you know, I'm hearing rumors that I'm sleeping with him, which is totally ridiculous. I call that the drill motor spins. Men gossip a lot more than women! It's unbelievable!
MP: How many women were on the crew down here versus up there?
KS: As far as welding?
KS: Uh, I'm the only female in Southern California, for the federal government.
MP: Was and are now?
KS: As far as I know, I'm the only female welder for the federal government in California, period, now.
KS: There were a few that work for private industry. Not many.
MP: So, how many people are there? How many people in your unit or in the welding trades down here? How many men?
KS: I think there's -- total, base-wide -- there's, like, 12 of us.
KS: Right. We've had a lot of retirements recently and stuff so, you know, of course, I think there's, like, four on the aircraft line. Welders, no females. There's seven welders on Voyage Repair Team. And two within maintenance and, of course, I'm the only one at Mobile Facilities.
MP: That's just North Island.
KS: That's just North Island, correct. They do have several, probably about a couple dozen at Point Loma and probably a couple dozen at 32nd Street, and there's no females there at all, as far as welders go for the Navy.
MP: So, Voyage Repair Team, did you join that right away when you came down?
KS: No. Originally, I was hired by the aircraft line.
MP: The aircraft line. And what did that entail?
KS: Welding aircraft parts. F-18s, S-3s, helicopter repairs, flight-line cable repairs, a lot of different varieties concerning both the airplanes and helicopters.
MP: So, in other words, this stuff, obviously, it breaks down, and you come into work everyday and what would your daily routine be like? Do they give you a sheet and say, "This is broken, go out and do it"?...how does that work?
KS: No, it's totally different than what I was used to. When you work on the aircraft line, you come in, and they have priority sets. So, you have airplane parts that have paperwork attached to it that needs repairing. It identifies what the repairs are. On Voyage Repair Team, it's different; it just depends. If you have workload for the aircraft carriers, then, of course, you go out with the crew on that. But when I first started there, it was probably almost 80 percent of the work was done on destroyers. Repairs to destroyers. And now, it's, of course, because of the investigation, that's swapped. Now they're not working on destroyers, just aircraft carriers. So, I don't quite understand what's going on with that whole deal.
MP: But when you first got here, you were doing airplanes?
MP: And what would they say; would you just go out? I mean, what do you weld on an airplane?
KS: Wing flaps. Just different parts of motor parts and L-125 repairs that are needed for the airplane squadrons that are there at the base, that attach to the base.
MP: Do they develop cracks? Or they just come loose?
KS: There are some parts that are cracked. And there's manufacturing that had to be done. You may be making new parts for the airplane, and things have to be welded together.
MP: And so, you get to work really early in the morning?
KS: We work probably 6:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. is the standard there at North Island.
MP: Is there any reason for that?
KS: That's normal for the federal government.
MP: Just start early and end early?
KS: Well, the shipyards usually run about 7:00. They start about 7:00, because, you know, they're dealing with the military. 'Cause the military usually musters about 7:00 a.m.
MP: I see.
KS: So, it usually takes about a half an hour to get aboard ship and all your... So, it's different on a shipyard than it would be on a manufacturing site. But I have to get a lot of things done before the squadrons arrive.
MP: And so you worked on the airplane side of it for how long? From '94?
KS: A year.
MP: About a year?
MP: And then what happened after that?
KS: I went to Voyage Repair Team.
MP: And what is Voyage Repair Team?
KS: Voyage Repair Team is a group of people that basically specialize in launch and recovery. A [resting] gear type repairs for the aircraft carriers on the destroyers. They work with a lot of the hangar-bay doors and electronic equipment, landing-gear equipment, SGSI platforms -- which is visual equipment -- lighting equipment, that helps the planes land.
MP: What does SGI stand for?
KS: Now you're really asking back in my memory. Basically it's a visual landing platform that, when the planes come in, they have lights, green and red. It helps them land on the top of the carriers and on top of the destroyers adequately.
MP: So they call it Voyage Repair Team, but it specializes in this particular thing about the catapults and all that?
KS: Right, right. Landing lights, anything to do with the planes landing and leaving. You know, the tailhook assemblies and --
MP: Tailhook stuff?
KS: Right. Jet-blast doors. Launching equipment. The engines that are attached to the launching equipment and stuff like that. They also do RMC work, which is Regional Maintenance Contracts. They used to do like weapon elevators and stuff like that but they've gotten away from that.
MP: I see. And the idea is that the unit becomes specialized, so they know how to deal with any issues that arise? Is that the idea?
KS: Correct, correct. And then overhauls and stuff like that. Repairs. You know, 'cause you do have a lot of problems with the older aircraft carriers. Of course. After so many flights they have certain guidelines that they have to follow as far as maintenance, [regional] maintenances and stuff. The military, the military has a standard.
MP: So, you started working there about '95 or so?
MP: I assume now we're sort of morphing into this situation. What came up? How did you know that there was a problem or what was manifesting itself?
KS: Well, you know, they were assigning me to systems that were critical systems. But I noticed that they weren't doing the appropriate testings that are required when you do new installations or repairs. You have certain NDI requirements, which is Non-Destructive Testing and you have certain hydro testing that's supposed to be taking place and they weren't performing that. And then, of course, as time progressed, I could see that they were taking a lot of short corners on specific projects in order for them to get the workload over the contractors. Especially on the destroyers, it was a real big issue, more so than the carriers. I know that focuses a lot on the carriers because the destroyer disclosures haven't started yet. They've separated that one off, so...
MP: What was happening?
KS: They were directing me to do job assignments that I felt were dangerous to the military personnel, and I started balking at performing certain jobs because I felt that if they weren't doing the proper inspections, that it could create a problem in the future. And then they would ask me to find problems, and then when I'd find the problems, they'd get upset at the results, so it just kind of cycled into a large problem.
MP: So, when we talk about they and them, these were civilian managers?
KS: Correct. Supervision.
MP: And you'd bring it to them and they'd just sort of shine you on?
KS: Basically. Or tell me to go do it. Or they were really good about -- if they could see that I was making an issue that was legit, they would wait 'til overtime and then pull another welder that was willing to work overtime. You know, 'cause they're very money-hungry people. That type of work, they work overtime 10 to 12 hours a day, seven days a week, months on end. And it's all about money. And, you know, trips. They love to do their trips to Japan and stuff like that. You make a lot of money, but...
MP: These were the welders?
KS: Yeah. They knew which welders would go do an illegal job and not question.
MP: What was the supervisors' motive? Just laziness?
KS: No. I think there was a lot to do with not being able to afford the equipment, the testing equipment. Not affording, or not understanding the guidelines. They're not trade-related.... So a lot of them didn't understand what I was talking about. Or they thought I was just trying to create problems, and that was not the case. Although in their investigation, which actually revealed itself about six months ago, is they've known since 1983. I'm the second whistleblower, not the first.... And a lot of people don't understand. I'm not the first person that reported this. I'm the second. And everybody thinks that I'm trying to create harm to the agency now, and that's not true. The agency's known about this since 1983. Management that is in charge now knew about it, so when I started bringing it up, they started attacking me, and I didn't know until six months ago why. You know, I've been going through this for six years....
There was an incident, I believe it was on the Constellation, and two or three sailors were killed when the jet-blast door came down. From the gist that I get from reading a lot of the documents that I've read just recently is somebody had filed a disclosure against the agency in reference to problems with welding. Of course, I don't know who that person is. That's not information the agency's provided to me. But, there was apparently an agreement that was made that the welders needed to be certified, and the NDI was an issue. Well, after that settlement was done, everything went out the window. And then here I come back in 1995, which was almost eight years later, and we're still dealing with a lot of the same managers, and they knew about it. It was news to me; I didn't know anything about it until six months ago. This is six years later even, and after voicing the concerns, they got nervous, I think.
MP: Where was that? Was the Constellation here?
MP: The work was done here?
KS: Yes. Yes. I'm not sure exactly what happened on the Constellation, but it had something to do with the piping, probably the hydraulic lines or something, just like the Stennis, which I was working on. I don't know exactly what happened on that, but I see with working for Voyage Repair, they weren't doing a lot of the testings that they were required to do, and it ultimately leads to other problems. Just like if you change your brakes out, and you don't bleed your brakes, you can have air in the lines. Of course, that's going to create problems down the line, and that's what I've seen with the jet-blast doors. Just a lot of improper things being done.
That was the main incident, was the jet-blast doors with the two sailors on the Stennis that lost their legs, unfortunately. Constellation happened in early '80s. Somebody did disclosure. It was basically shut up, and then I came around in '97 with it and, you know, of course an incident happened two years later because nobody took any action on my disclosures. The second incident, two sailors had lost their legs.
MP: That was number two.
KS: Right, the first one, they actually died. The sailors were killed....
I originally spoke to my superiors and got nowhere. I went to the union and got nowhere. I went to the dock captain's hotline and got nowhere. Eventually I ended up in [the Equal Employment Opportunity office] doing an affidavit that went nowhere! I thought they were trying to correct it. I didn't realize that there were some issues in '83 that were going to create a problem with the agency. So I eventually took the advice of my previous attorney and filed whistleblowers' disclosure forms at the Office of Special Counsel, although I had no idea who the people were at the time.
I did the EEO finally in May of 1997 with the disclosures, along with some other issues that were taking place down there on the behavior that I was receiving from some of the management within the area, and I was under that impression that EEO and the agency was taking corrective action, and they weren't. So when I hired an attorney, he suggested that I protect myself because he felt the disclosures were...that they were going to fire me, basically. They were going to try to find a way to fire me for the disclosures because they were serious enough. Thirty years of malpractice is pretty serious against the federal government, and he was right.
MP: That was in the fall of '99?
KS: That was '97.
KS: Right. And then I filed in '99.
MP: This in '99.
KS: Correct. And then the investigation just started last year, which was 2002! Quite a distance of time!
MP: And so, during that interim period, were they harassing you?
KS: Oh, yes.
MP: How did that manifest?
KS: I think the easiest way to put it in a nutshell is, one of my managers -- we'll put it that way -- offered me $20,000 to resign. I got 20 years, I need five years until retirement, and he thinks that I should take a resignation. Which is really, really out there. And, of course, he told me I'd never be meritly promoted. I just ruined my career by filing this. And I know that now.
MP: And this sort of validation that comes from the special counsel doesn't help you out in the sense that they didn't suddenly see the light and a reward...
KS: No! I'm a target, a big target! Oh, yeah. Oh, Lord, it's been horrible.
There's something every week. Right now, just the last two weeks I've noticed them back off, only because the agency is now being charged with reprisal whistleblower charges. And for retaliation against me.... "The Office of Special Counsel is currently investigating charges of reprisal," is a better way of adequately putting it, which I don't think we're going to have a problem substantiating, but, anyhow, they are focusing on that now, and then second disclosures is right up on its heels for the destroyers, because they're going to have to fix the destroyers as well. Not just the aircraft carriers, but the destroyers, and not even all the carriers are on there. There's still a couple carriers that they have to go back and have corrected, the Kitty Hawk and such.
MP: Who's behind this? Just a couple of guys?; I mean, how many people are in this conspiracy?
KS: Oh, my goodness! There's like 20-something of them. I call it the mafia. What I find amazing with all of this is the people that are responsible, that were supposed to correct these problems or who I had gone through my chain of command to correct these problems, aren't the ones that are being reprimanded. They're pulling people that have never been involved with me or never been involved with anything to do with me that are close to retirement, "Oh, I'll take the hit, I'll take it." The next thing you know, they're given an oral admonishment; people are being given oral admonishments who had nothing even to do with my case. So I feel it's impeding with the federal investigation and that they need to stop these people, and the people that are in my third and fourth line that should've corrected this 20 years ago should be held accountable. I don't understand what seems to be the problem with the agency doing this.
None of the commanding officers have been reprimanded to my knowledge. There was one quality assurance officer that was due to retire and agreed, according to what I've read, to take the fallout for quality assurance because he was due to retire, and all he was given was an oral admonishment.
There's been several managers involved that were never reprimanded, at all. Nothing at all. It's pretty amazing. I think Elaine Kaplan requested...to see if the disciplinary action was dealt out fairly. Because both of us know it wasn't. If you're reprimanding people that had no involvement on it, what about the people that were involved? According to what I read from the agency, they're claiming it would've destroyed the managers' careers if they were reprimanded. Well, first of all, what about me? Second of all, what about the people that've been injured? I think that at least they should've been given the minimal amount of beach time. If you look on the Office of Special Counsel website, you'll see where just recently there was a case through Office of Special Counsel where some [Navy Investigative Service] agents used the vehicles inappropriately for personal use. That manager received 30 or 31 days on the beach. I have one manager out of a group of 20 that received three days. So, if you're looking at that, and the agency's saying disciplinary action was appropriate, I don't understand how they come to that reason, something as serious as what I've revealed to them.
MP: Is this out of the ordinary just for this area, or does this go on all over the Navy?
KS: You know, this base is the only base I've ever seen it like this. It's like working for the mafia. It truly, truly is. Like my attorney said, you offend one manager, and you seem to offend all of them. They've lost focus of what the whole issue of the complaint is about. My managers have taken it personal, like I was trying to personally attack them. That's totally untrue. They asked me to find a problem, I found the problem. But when they found out that they were responsible for the problem and that they would be liable, things changed. It was to the point where they were attacking me, trying to get rid of me. And I had no idea until just recently how bad it was. I had no idea that they had no valid NDI program or no valid QA program for 30 years. They're gonna have to answer to the Navy for that.
MP: And they've been around for a long time?
KS: Oh, yes! I don't know how long Voyage Repair Team -- I believe 30 years, 32 years.
MP: Still working in the same place?
KS: Yeah, for the same agency.
MP: As far as the brass go, you mentioned that there's a captain. Who supervises these guys?
MP: They report directly to an admiral?
KS: Yes. A NAVAIR admiral.
MP: Has the admiral been aware of any of this? Has he done anything about it?
KS: You know, a lot of the stuff that I know is mostly hearsay from command evaluation. They claimed to me that the captain [would] support me and that the admiral [would] support me. I haven't seen anything in writing from these people that states that. My attorney had to push to even acknowledge my Public Service Award. And I'm watching the people that should be held accountable for -- like, we have a welding engineer task force. We have people that are responsible to ensure that all the welding's done correctly and all that. These people should have been reprimanded for not having a valid program. But, in turn, they've been turned around and given thousands of dollars for fixing a problem they never had for 30 years and no disciplinary action was taken against them. So it's like, people are being given promotions and awards for correcting problems that I brought up now, which has been in the system for 30 years. And these people have been there for 30 years. I don't understand why they're being awarded. It just amazes me.
MP: And that's coming from the officer level?
KS: Captain, yeah. And here I haven't received a dime, not one single penny. And I'm watching all these people that should have been held accountable in quality assurance and welding and everything else. All of them are getting cash award after cash award, promotion after promotion. And it's kind of insulting. It's really insulting for me.
I've worked at many, many different bases and this one is truly unbelievable. The way that the workers look at it -- myself especially, my coworkers -- we're not there to kiss people's feet. We're there to do a job to the best of our ability with the equipment that we have. That's not management's focus at North Island, which really surprised me. Coming from a nuclear submarine, their focus is workload. Getting the submarine out under cost in a certain time for defense warfare. This base seems to be, like, "This is the person you need to please. Please, please, please people." They could care less about workload. And it really amazes me that there's more focus on power. There's a power-control struggle going there with certain managers and I think a lot of it has to do with the new implementation of senior executive systems for the federal government now. It's a new initiative that Bush put out to promote upper management. Basically these managers get really high in the chain and then they supervise out contractors.
So there's a structural power trip going on there and it's just unfortunate that the workers are kind of falling in the struggle.
MP: How does that struggle affect the workers?
KS: It does a lot because, you know, they have to be able to establish that they can save money on the floors, so a lot of time if we are asking for specific equipment, or training, that they show cost savings if they don't have a certain amount of money per year savings, so they will eliminate buying stuff, and it does affect people on the floor because if you don't have this equipment to work with, you know, it's a little hard. When you're working with a welding machine that's 30 years old, that's pretty bad. I mean, I can't even get a hoist on line. Because they don't want to spend the money to have the hook certified. So in the meantime, people are having to heft things up, and I don't see...I guess they figure they save money by not having to pay for the training, not having to pay for the inspections, not having to keep it certified. It's all about a money thing, and that base is so small.
MP: This goes back to the bidding against the private contractors?
KS: Exactly. Somebody comes in...like, one of the squadrons, "We need to have these repairs done," and then they'll open bid and whoever's the lowest gets it. And the federal government has a high hourly wage. I think we run at about $117 an hour where private industry runs about $54.
MP: This issue is more recent than, say, '97 to '99?
KS: Well, actually, I think that's what started in -- I think it was late '90s when Clinton and those guys were in office they started this.
MP: Who are these contractors? Are these local folks? Are they like Halliburton?
KS: Like Naasco, Continental, Maritime. Naasco's actually gotten huge. It used to be small in the early '80s. Now you'll see them everywhere. They even have a whole dry dock at Bremerton now, which they never used to, but they were given a multimillion-dollar contract with the federal government, I believe, last year. For just San Diego, I think, it was, like, a $20 million contract. That's quite extensive. So, federal government's trying to compete with them and it's kind of hard.
MP: And so they're doing some of the work out there now?
KS: Oh, they're doing a lot of the work. I mean, it's not uncommon to see Naasco all over the ships. A lot of times when we come on the ship, Voyage Repair Team, a lot of the military guys think we're contractors because they're so used to seeing the contractors on the ship that they don't realize that we're federal government.
MP: In one of your more recent communications, you sort of alluded to the fact that command changes a lot at North Island, so that the actual brass doesn't really play that much of a role. I think, as I recall, you said something about you talked to one of the supervisors, and they said, "Well, that captain's going to be gone."
KS: There was a manager that threatened me, point blank. You see [Captain James Woolway] has been trying to correct the problems when he came in as an executive officer, now he's commanding officer. The federal government structures change because of the low number of enlistment and stuff now. They change. Instead of a commanding officer being in charge for two or three years, now they're only in charge for 18 months at a time.... And [the manager] basically told me after [Woolway's] gone, he's coming after me....
[A North Island manager] told the Office of Special Counsel that I was a disgruntled worker, so what they did was shut my case down, originally. And then I had to appeal it and provide documents showing I was telling the truth. Of course, now in hindsight later, they're looking in going, "Oh my God, she did tell us before these sailors got hurt. We should've listened to her instead of taking his word for it and shut it down." He had no documentation to show that I was a disgruntled worker. I've never been wrote up in my life, so why did they take his word for it? Well, he's a manager. That's a problem that I noticed at North Island; they do not listen to their workers at all.
MP: There is an adversarial thing even with this OSC procedure, right? Because obviously, when they responded to the OSC investigation, they sort of went down a checklist, and they attempted to debunk some of the stuff you've said.
KS: Oh, they tried. From what I understand, too, Office of Special Counsel has been doing a very outstanding job, but I think the main thing that people have to understand...the main thing is to protect the liability of the Navy. All the way around. Of course, I don't think there's anybody that really wants to say, "Oh, goodness gracious, we've been allowing this agency to commit intentional malpractice for 30 years, getting people hurt, especially sailors." At this time in war, I don't think they really want to admit that, but, unfortunately, that's what it all boils down to. And now how they correct it is another issue.
MP: So where are we now? That brings us to what's going to happen in the future.
KS: They're doing an audit right now. The audit is going to be completing, actually, at the end of this week from what I understand.
Basically going through all of my issues again as far as quality assurance. I guess quality assurance isn't doing too well. And welders are back on track; they're being required to do a lot of extra work that they've never been able to have to perform before so the welders just absolutely hate me.
MP: When you say extra, you mean more training and more...
KS: Paperwork. You know, documenting what they're working on. Making sure they're welding it properly, doing all the required testing that they never used to do. They used to cut. They never used to do hydros and stuff, and now they're requiring them to do hydros.
MP: And what's a hydro?
KS: A pressurized test where they actually pressurize the piping system that they're welding to make sure that... Steam, water or oil, it doesn't matter. But they're testing it to make sure that it doesn't leak or that it could cause a fatality.
MP: And they never did that before?
KS: Never. And that's where a lot of my problems were because they were having me working on steam lines and such that were shooting airplanes off. You know, these are high-pressurized items that they claim never were high pressure. That's a bold-faced lie. They weren't doing the precautionaries that they were required to. You know, the NDIs and stuff like that will show defects. The welders aren't very happy about it, but... And they have to take testing that they never had to take before, which they should have been taking all along.
MP: So in other words, you get negative feedback from that?
KS: Oh, my goodness! I'm so well hated there, it's unbelievable. I'm surprised I'm even going to work every day. Especially now that the results have come out, it's even worse than it was beforehand. Because before it was so quiet-quiet, because I never defend myself. I don't care what management has to say. They're the ones that lost focus as to what this is about. It wasn't filed to create problems for the agency like the management thinks it was. And it wasn't filed to prevent them from getting workload. It was filed to ensure that the military personnel that are living on these vessels don't get killed because of something stupid or not wanting to pay the money to do it properly. And that's what it boils down to, and, of course, management feels it's a personal attack to them. The only thing that I feel I'm personally attacking is the fact that they never, ever took care of the problem when I addressed it. They attacked me instead of taking care of the problem, and they just lost focus and they're so used to being able to intimidate people in getting their way that's it's created a problem for them.
MP: So they've increased that regimen of testing and reporting. Anything else?
KS: Well they have audits that are going to have to be done yearly, which I totally agree with.
MP This one that's coming out?
KS: This one, and then from now on, all the NAVAIRs, including Jacksonville, because we're not the only facility that are in this bind. You've got Jacksonville, which is in Florida, and you've got Lakehurst, New Jersey. You've got bases all over the United States that are supposed to be complying with these requirements and I think 95 percent of the ones they checked were out of compliance. That's horrible results. I think the only ones that were really up to speed were, like, Puget Sound because, you know, we were on the same level. That was my sister base for Mare Island, so everything was done in accordance with the guidelines. Well, a lot of these little satellite places have been getting away with it for so many years and can't figure out why their defect rate's high. Now they're going to have to change that because the audits are going to be taking place, and it's not just Navy, it's Air Force, Army, Marines, all of them.
MP: And when they audit, what do they audit, the welds?
KS: Yeah, they're checking for weld certifications. There are certain documents that have to be done and they're looking to make sure that those are done properly, that they're using the right materials, that the testings are being done and that everything is recorded with the ships so the ships know what to look for. The testing, that's the main thing for me: hydros and inspections and quality assurance testings are being done.
MP: So they check through all of the logs and stuff and make sure that happened?
KS: Correct. And make sure that everything matches the guidelines.
MP: Anything else that's being done? Those are the two basic?
KS: That, and I think that they also opened up a new disclosure, which we haven't talked to the Office of Special Counsel about yet. So they can go in and make all the repairs to the destroyers that have been taking place for 30 years illegally. So there's a lot of things that are still left to be done yet. But as far as the carriers, from what I understand, the carriers are slowly but surely being repaired as far as the piping goes, and training.
MP: It's going to expand to the destroyers?
KS: It expanded through there and contractors. All the contractors are being required to be certified as well now. I think there was quite a bit of layoffs on the contractor side too, unfortunately.
MP: Issues with contractors not being certified?
MP: Where were you reassigned to?
KS: Well, I've been put into all kinds of shops!
MP: You've been moved around all over?
KS: They have, seems like purposely tried to move me around so that management can come back and say, "Oh, see, she's a problem, so we had to move her again. See, she's a problem wherever she goes." That's what they tried to do, but of course, now that I have an attorney, I've been able to stop that. But it doesn't mean they don't try! They do try! My career is cold turkey, straight. After five years, I'm going to have to leave. That's all there is to it. I'm going to have to do a deferred retirement and leave the agency. I have no choice. I'm being placed at no choice. This will never end. Once [Woolway's] gone, they're coming after me. There's not going to be any way to protect myself other than to suck it up. I foresee exactly what one of the managers said, "You're going to fight your way back." They're going to fire me for dirty coveralls and let me fight my way back.
And there's no doubt in my mind that once OSC is out of the way, which is another six months or so, that they're coming after me full barrel. They figure they ain't got nothing to lose. "Let her fight it in court. It'll take too many years to get into court." And that's just the way that those managers are. That's the way they think. And that's probably what's going to happen. I'll get fired and have to fight my way back and get a measly retirement out of it after 20 years. They're attacking my witnesses now.
MP: In what sense?
KS: Oh, just writing them up for crazy, trumped-up charges. One of the guys, Carlos, as a matter of fact, he was wrote up the day before he retired for speaking to the Office of Special Counsel. Three, four, five of my witnesses have been wrote up in the last couple weeks on these trumped-up charges. It's just totally ridiculous. They've just lost control. Management has lost control.
From what I understand, the captain has directed them to stop and desist, but these managers are so ingrained, so used to being feared that I think they use the focus of, "We'd better leave her alone or it's really gonna get..." They've got stupid stamped on their forehead. They really truly do.
Recently my plant manager was overheard by a couple of my witnesses discussing me. Now, this particular person doesn't even know me. I have never met this man, and he was just viciously tearing me up one side and down the other side to the captain with personal opinions of me, but he's never met me. It's kind of hard, and I'm not at a level to defend myself. I'm in a shop welding while this is going on. They've got 16 or 17 people trying to cover up for an excuse to the captain, and here I'm never even asked if it's true or not.
I read an e-mail just recently from my third line.... Got [shocked] on a weld machine four times, and they haven't done any repairs, and I kept telling them it was the ground or the machine. "Oh, she doesn't know what she's talking about." Well, now the fourth time, when they opened up the machine yesterday, they found out that they had hard-wired 480! They're lucky I didn't get killed! Now they're going to have to go back to the captain and say, "She's right."And he's going to have to answer because originally when I got shocked it was two years ago. And here they're having me use this equipment every day, and I keep telling them there's a problem, and they have a hard time. What I get from my supervisors is that they've never dealt with a female before, but they treat me like I'm not supposed to know my trade. It is so insulting. Or if I do a repair on something, "Oh, I never thought of doing it that way. Oh, but you messed up doing it this way." And you have to look at them. And I'm a metalsmith. I'm not going to do everything the same way as everybody else is.... I know my trade extremely well, and they just can't seem to understand that. Or accept it, for that matter.
MP: You're saying it got to the point where people were getting beat up and stuff?
KS: Yeah, there was a lot of threats.... Basically, what happens is the first line supervisors have certain employees that act like their bullies. If somebody's bringing up something like I brought up, usually what happens is they get their little pit bull, and that person makes life miserable for the person to the point where they'll ask to leave. Well, they weren't going to be able to push me out, so there's a few particular people that are set in each area, and that will have the tendency because management can't cross over; management can only do so much. So they have other people pressure you. And what happened was, when they saw that I wasn't going to leave, and I was pushing the issue to corrections, other people started defending me, saying, "Kristin's telling the truth. Leave her alone." And the next thing you know, that person's beat up. And then another person would step in, "Back up off her, leave her alone." And then he would be threatened. It's gotten to the point where either you're on my side or management's side. And it's not a good spot to be on Kristin's side. Management's got more power, so...
MP: How do you deal with it? Do you have any apprehensions when you go in there in terms of just your personal safety?
KS: Oh, my goodness, it's horrible. Yeah. Oh, God, yes. I can't live in fear of what's going to take place. I do have a lot of hang-ups at my home, which has been going on since...oh, God, yes. I can usually tell when something's taken place at the agency that I'm not aware of because the hang-ups will accelerate. For instance, before the inspector general got here, I didn't know they were coming in until I got, like, 14 phone calls in one night. So, there's a point of contact I have at the agency, and I call them, and I ask them what the hell's going on. He's, like, "Well, the IG's going to be here tomorrow." "Well, how did you know?" That's what he asked me. Well, 14 hang-ups last night is telling me that something's going on. Now, that could only be coming out of management because they're the only ones that know in advance when certain people are going to be here because I was never notified until last minute. I think they told me 48 hours before they showed up this time, and then all of a sudden wanted a trunk-load of documents put down-to-scale to one document. They have a lot more notification than I do. They always let the agency know so they can cover up everything real quick, shred a lot of documents and whatever else. That's just normal for the federal government, unfortunately. Kind of like the movie Silkwood.