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Reputation and identity

In reporting this story I heard a lot about reputation. The reputation of the Army Corps, different in different regions. Reputation of an engineering firm, an architecture and design firm. Reputation of Caterpillar, Hydraflo, all the manufacturers of different parts - and that of Moving Water Industries, the company that won this contract. Finally, of course, the reputation of the whistleblower herself.

It's the last two I want to focus on.

To defend its reputation in 2007, after the Army Corps publicly released an investigation of the problems, the company MWI sent to Brigadier General Crear a 140+ page document. In response to my questions this year, I received this document; the company also refused an interview. I used the document in my reporting. We posted it briefly on our website. I'm not so sure that was the right thing to do.

MWI created and released the document at a time it was still trying to get paid, in August of 2007. It raised a few interesting and potentially valid points in its entreaties directed at the government. As I found through FOIA, and as MWI references, Maria Garzino was trying to help nail down a procedure for testing the hydraulic pumps in the field in mid-2006 - 14 months before the MWI response. MWI argued, quite reasonably, that it couldn't get paid without a test standard, and the New Orleans district of the Corps wasn't giving them one.

The company's perspective also points up the difficulty of keeping several moving parts properly aligned in late 2005 and early 2006 - namely, the pumps and the structures at which they would be placed. The contract MWI bid on included specs including a design head, and operating conditions, that differed in the end from plans approved for platforms at which the pumps were located. So pressed to get this done, and done before June 1 - by the President's political promise, perhaps, or by the pressure felt within the Corps resulting from engineering failures - a lot of contracts went out, separately, to be managed and built together, that didn't mesh well. It was sloppy; other contracts show this; and MWI's document backs up other accounts of that.

But in that same document MWI makes ad hominem attacks on Maria Garzino. Some could be construed as just name calling, or a matter of opinion. Others are factually unsupportable. Still others are unbelievable and unverified - like the idea that Garzino was responsible for decisions made on site by New Orleans Corps managers a year after she rotated back to Los Angeles.

Is publishing that - possibly publicly available, but personnel-related, so possibly protected - document the same thing as reporting it? Is any of this different on the web?

Maria Garzino has reason to be concerned about MWI slamming her. Not just for the usual reasons whistleblowers get attacked. An affiliate of the company took to KPCC's comments section, without identifying himself, to cast doubt on her and her allegations. That tactic's been used before when it comes to spinning reporting and public opinion about the Army Corps - by Corps affiliates and federal employees - something Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu has investigated.

I've got a certain amount of trust that people will figure out what's credible and what's not. But what if I'm wrong? In this case, until and unless KPCC can more completely investigate what MWI is saying in its document - which would require, at the least, MWI to answer questions in an interview, something it has refused to do - I choose not to test Maria Garzino's reputation with that trust.