Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Reply to CG's inadequate response sent off via email; waiting to hear from CG JAG/General Counsel

With the flaws related to the recent final appeal that had to be coaxed out of the US Coast Guard hierarchy, I sent a response to CG officials last week maintaining that their response was wholly inadequate. 

The text is as follows: 

November 13, 2015

Commandant, U.S. Coast Guard  - STOP 7710
2703 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave SE
Washington, DC 20593-7710
Staff Symbol: CG-611
Phone: (202) 475-3519

RE: Final Response - FOIA Appeal 2015-025

Dear ADM Zukunft (CAPT Michael Ryan), RADM Lytle, Mr. Maher et al --

The September 1, 2015 response from the U.S. Coast Guard regarding the above-referenced FOIA Appeal is flawed as the Coast Guard’s efforts to fulfill the original request was inadequate/incomplete and this matter should still be considered open.

The specific problems that were not addressed in the Coast Guard’s response are as follows:

It is my understanding from speaking with several retired Coast Guard officers that it is a routine procedure once a cutter has been decommissioned from Coast Guard service for the associated records and documentation for that ship to be removed from the Office of Cutter Forces and the library of the Surface Forces Logistics Center. At the time of my original FOIA request of Nov. 4, 2013, the CGC STORIS had been decommissioned almost seven full years. Therefore, as a matter of procedure, the records associated with CGC STORIS would have been purged from the Office of Cutter Forces well before my inquiry. Yet the Coast Guard has responded that a comprehensive search of Cutter Forces records was undertaken, at a facility – according to what has been explained as standard operating procedure – that would no longer serve as a repository for those records. And while the FOIA response from USCG specifically discusses the Office of Cutter Forces, what about the technical library at the Surface Forces Logistics Center in Baltimore? The WMEC branch in Norfolk? Or the Surface Forces Logistics Center in Oakland that handled her mothballing?

The overall question becomes a matter of what the full procedure for the records purge involves. Are the records for decommissioned cutters disposed of/destroyed or are they moved to a separate archival facility somewhere else, such as the National Archives and Records Administration? The only records for STORIS that are immediately identifiable within NARA holdings are some Night Order books, many ship’s logbooks in Washington, DC, and a drawing set at the NARA facility at College Park, MD. Again, to say that a full search of the Cutter Forces facility was performed when that facility as a matter of procedure would no longer hold the requested records is quite disingenuous, especially without an answer as to where these records went as a matter of standard procedure.

There is also the matter of the “completeness” and “reasonableness” of the described search.

Attached is an email from retired Commandant Papp to Jim Loback, president of the STORIS Museum. Copied on this email is current Commandant Paul Zukunft. While I have had a copy of this correspondence since it’s original transmission, as it was forwarded to me by Mr. Loback, the Coast Guard did not send this correspondence to me as part of the records requested through the FOIA request. It’s likely that there are other such communications and documents within Coast Guard holdings that have not been released. This includes communications between the General Services Administration staffers handling the auction of STORIS and Jeff Beach the manager of decommissioned cutters/boats. There are references to haz-mat documentation and correspondence involving USCG in GSA materials released through FOIA that were not released by the Coast Guard. Additional correspondence from GSA sent the morning after closure of the STORIS auction shows that GSA sales official Tonya Dillard sought permission from Jeff Beach of the Coast Guard to accept the (below reserve) bid of $70,100 for the ship (see attached). This correspondence stream is also missing from the Coast Guard materials released to me.

Another critical document not provided by the U.S. Coast Guard is the “Specifications for the Lay Up Preparations of USCGC STORIS (WMEC-38) May 2007,” prepared by the U.S. Coast Guard Maintenance and Logistics Command Pacific Naval Engineering Division. This document was obtained by searching other U.S. government resources, and was not provided by the Coast Guard. This is particularly problematic considering it contains specific information directly related to the request. It also relates back to the concerns about the adequacy of the FOIA search related to USCG offices and technical repositories.

These examples clearly demonstrate that there are materials that exist related to CGC STORIS and her excessing, sale and disposal that the U.S. Coast Guard did not send in response to my FOIA inquiry. The validity of the Coast Guard’s claims in relation to this FOIA request and its fulfillment come into question when there are such gaping holes across the response. Missing items and questionable search locations are cause for rightful skepticism regarding the adequacy and thoroughness of the search.

STORIS was a nationally significant historic ship listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This recognition should have encouraged her preservation and interpretation rather than expedited destruction at the hands of the Federal Government bureaucracy. There is keen interest in how this great ship was allowed to be destroyed and an expectation of full transparency from this administration.

Your attention to this matter is greatly appreciated.


Jon A. Ottman

on behalf of the STORIS Museum of Juneau, Alaska (dissolved 2014),
The Last Patrol Museum of Toledo, Ohio
as well as the veterans and supporters of the USCGC STORIS


Nikki Gramian, Office of Government Information Systems, NARA - Ref OGIS File No. 201400438 - USCG FOIA 2014-0566 of Nov. 4, 2013 re: USCGC STORIS (WMEC-38)
Danielle Ivory, New York Times    

I have received notices that Commandant Zukunft, his executive assistant and others have received the information.

CAPT Michael Ryan, the executive assistant sent a note over the weekend officially acknowledging receipt on behalf of ADM Zukunft. After a further review, additional materials are clearly missing from the CG response.

I responded to CAPT Ryan as follows:

Good evening Captain-

Thank you for your response, particularly on a Sunday morning.

As I continue to pore over the documents that I have received from the various agencies involved with the excessing, disposal and export of CGC STORIS, some additional materials are also conspicuous in their absence. This would be correspondence involving RADM Fred Kenney, former chief counsel for the U.S. Coast Guard. I personally addressed inquiries to RADM Kenney related to various aspects of the situation with STORIS and there does not seem to be any materials from the Coast Guard that reflect RADM Kenney's involvement. Meanwhile, there are communications involving the Maritime Administration where RADM Kenney is copied -- correspondence which I received through FOIA from MARAD -- yet those materials do not appear in the CG's FOIA release to me.

Your assistance in this matter is appreciated.

Jon Ottman

So now we wait some more, as RADM Marshall Lytle, the JAG and Chief Counsel for the CG, is apparently preparing a response on behalf of the CG according to CAPT Ryan.

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