Thursday, October 16, 2014

First FOIA documents released by GSA

This is the start of the documentation stream for the GSA Freedom of Information Act request, all 44 pages of it so far. This is the FOIA from Nov. 4 of last year that the agency wanted to charge me over $10K to fulfill. Based on the invoice for charges, there was a $580 duplication fee, which should translate to just under 6,000 pages of documents since the first 100 copies are free and additional pages are 10 cents a page. The balance of the threatened fees was for associated labor and review, which would essentially mean that GSA is claiming that they were/are paying someone to work the equivalent of two full months of 40-hour weeks at $29/hr to review the materials I requested. It seems rather fishy that there would be that much documentation generated or that it would require that much work to review. Hmm, it couldn’t be a punitive fee to discourage pursuit of the information, could it?  And all we have so far is a paltry 44 pages. I suspect that the GSA documentation will be critical, but I also suspect that they will be dishonest and stingy with what is actually released, all in the interests of keeping secrets and covering for the bureaucratic apathy and incompetence endemic within the federal government.

As a review, the worksheet/invoice is here:

The GSA later claimed to waive the fees assessed to me when the agency received a similar FOIA request from Danielle Ivory of the NY Times. The request has been reclassified as a media FOIA at this point and Ms. Ivory now has control of the request and its fulfillment. Apparently the information will continue to be released in segments, as agreed upon by GSA and the NYT writer. I spoke at length with Ms. Ivory about STORIS on two occasions late last year and I have continued to send her updates. Hopefully, the details will merit some kind of story.

These issues with the GSA FOIA are discussed in previous posts. The context & submitted documents on Feb 3, 2014, the invoice for $10,266 – March 8, 2014, and the waiver of fees granted for FOIA because of a media request – April 2, 2014.

The release cover letter sent to Danielle Ivory (copied to me) is here:

The released documents are here:

GSA claims that there are no records for “copies of internal records and communications that were used to justify GSA’s decision to abandon discussions with the nonprofit STORIS Museum and Last Patrol Museums, whose expressed intentions were to obtain the ex-USCGC STORIS through the public benefit conveyance option of GSA disposal procedures for historic preservation and use as a training vessel for US Naval Sea Cadets and US Navy League Cadets.”

While the majority of the correspondence with GSA was handled by telephone by Jim Loback of the STORIS Museum, it is hardly believable that there are no GSA records or notes to be found related to any communications with STORIS Museum or any internal discussion to abandon efforts to preserve the ship. There were, indeed, internal decisions made within GSA to get rid of the ship without concern for her preservation, some of which are alluded to in the released 44 pages of documents. Common sense and known facts from our end would indicate that GSA is being dishonest. There is no surprise there.

Despite a clear requirement in the bidding criteria for the ship for a Certificate of Financial Responsibility, GSA also claims that it does not have any documentation related to COFR requirements, instead forwarding the request to the Coast Guard. It’s been pointed out several times already how helpful and forthcoming the Coast Guard has been in providing information related to STORIS and her excessing and disposal (sarcasm). We are still awaiting information from the original Coast Guard request as well as approval for release of information referred to the Coast Guard by MARAD. 

The documents released on September 30 largely consist of correspondence between property disposal manager Heather Bischoff of GSA and Jeff Beach, a civilian excess property manager at Coast Guard HQ. The correspondence (correctly) reflects a strong belief within the Coast Guard and GSA that no other state or federal agency would be interested in taking the ship through the GSA disposal process. This correspondence also involves Dr. Daniel Koski-Karell of the Environmental Management Division at CG HQ. Dr. Koski-Karell is no stranger to maritime heritage or the National Register with his professional accomplishments. His father was also a Navy veteran who served as the assistant director of construction programs for the Pacific Coast, including Alaska and he was also a Michigan native, as well. STORIS should have been appreciated as a product of Toledo and as an Alaskan legend. Dr. Koski-Karell was our contact within the Coast Guard who handled the NR nomination for STORIS, supposedly hand carrying it through the process to the National Park Service to facilitate her listing. So much for professional consideration of the ship’s history after all the effort we put into nominating the ship for National Register listing.

It’s very clear that historic preservation and saving STORIS was of no concern for the government parties involved, whether it was the Coast Guard or GSA. The primary consideration was getting rid of STORIS as soon as possible to allow the Coast Guard to get out from under the $50,000 in annual storage fees it was paying to store the ship among the MARAD fleet at Suisun Bay. In fact, while the listing for the National Register of Historic Places is acknowledged, the GSA manager, Heather Bischoff, is elated to announce that GSA discovered the Memorandum of Agreement between the Coast Guard and the Alaska State Historic Preservation Office. The MOA discussion starts around page 17. This MOA, signed in late 2006 through the requirements of Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, gave the federal government the go-ahead at that time to decommission the ship once she was extensively photographed and documented through the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER). This process was completed in 2006. Once the MOA was signed, it acknowledged that the ship could ultimately be destroyed by the decommissioning and retirement process, despite the recognition of her historic significance with a determined eligibility at that time for listing on the National Register. (The Coast Guard never undertook the nomination process.) Even though STORIS was later officially recognized as nationally significant with her December 31, 2012 listing on the National Register, GSA and the Coast Guard abandoned transfer discussions with STORIS Museum, choosing instead to fall back on that 2006 MOA to facilitate and expedite the excessing and sale of the ship from federal ownership. The government did not care about the ship’s history and the MOA was their “get out of jail free card.” This is, as I suspected, the reason that GSA stopped talking with Jim Loback of the STORIS Museum. Bureaucratic apathy and laziness won out over righteous, honorable and responsible stewardship of a federally owned property of national historic significance. While it may have been legal, it was certainly not moral or ethical.

The MOA is appendix D of the Environmental Assessment document to decommission STORIS and ACUSHNET. It can be viewed here:

The tremendous waste of a noble, magnificent and nationally significant historic ship aside, it is outrageous that the Coast Guard spent upwards of $300,000 to maintain STORIS on donation hold for six years at Suisun Bay, only to dump her (illegally) ASAP through GSA for $70,100 to U.S. Metals Recovery, the so-called “metals recycling firm” listed in California as a used car dealer. Coast Guard and GSA officials knew there were TWO viable nonprofits that wanted the ship after the Coast Guard had been directed to keep the ship on donation hold for all those years. No one in the federal government can argue that the sale of the ship under those circumstances effectively and responsibly recouped the government’s expenditures or honored the intention of preserving the ship following her decommissioning. Yes, the money stayed within the government, being transferred between the Coast Guard and MARAD, but that was still taxpayer money being shifted and wasted. The economic and cultural loss of STORIS as a museum ship and training vessel is beyond measure thanks to these bureaucrats.

It is important to remember that GSA should never have been involved with the disposal of STORIS (or ACUSHNET or the original MACKINAW) as all three ships displace more than 1,500 tons. Federal law (40 USC 548) mandates that ships exceeding 1,500 tons must be disposed of through the U.S. Maritime Administration.

Another key federal regulation that the government violated with the STORIS excessing was Section 3502 of the Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Act of 2009. This requires that all former U.S. government ships are to be recycled domestically in the U.S. In reviewing the GSA correspondence, it appears that GSA utilizes an electronic database system to list excess property. It would appear that the requirements of the Duncan Hunter provision are not part of the “drop-down” menu system that forms the listing of properties and were therefore never considered because it wasn’t part of the pre-formatted computer layout. This scenario demonstrates and reinforces GSA’s apathy and incompetence (with Coast Guard officials in major supporting roles) in that the officials seem to have been paralyzed when they couldn’t get the computer to accept what they were entering into the system. It speaks volumes when there is no distinction between an old filing cabinet and a nationally significant historic ship based on what the computer system will or won’t accept. Just because the computer didn’t recognize the Duncan Hunter provision doesn’t excuse these bureaucrats from violating federal law, however.
Pg 38 starts discussion about excessing 55-foot aids to navigation boats from the Coast Guard inventory. Jeff Beach makes a comment about listing STORIS, “all 230 feet of her.” So he acknowledges her size is substantial in relation to the other vessels to be excessed.

Seriously, if this is the quality and quantity of information that is going to come out of GSA, there are some serious questions that need to be pressed on them. For the $10,266 they wanted to charge me, I would have expected to see documents revealing the truth behind JFK’s assassination and a copy of Barack Obama’s real birth certificate. So far, this is nothing but the same message stream repeated several times. It’s also taken 11 months to get just 44 pages of materials. This, again, from the “most transparent government in U.S. history,” a government that is wholly content with destroying STORIS, a major contributor to that very history.

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