Navy Inspector General’s Report on the Naval History and Heritage Command – Part II

Last week, I wrote about the parts of the IG inspection that showed NHHC programs that were assessed as “on track” or “needing work”. These are largely “military” requirements like sexual harassment training, suicide prevention and physical training programs.

Today I’m going to discuss programs the IG team judged as “off track” or not meeting required standards. Inasmuch as some of these programs relate to the central historico-preservationist mission of NHHC, their “off track” status is very troubling.

First is the matter of “Facilities, Environmental and Safety”: the IG’s report notes that the Command “occupies approximately 230,000 square feet (SF) of geographically and functionally dispersed facilities at the Washington Navy Yard (WNY).  … With the exception of 19,136 SF in Building 200, their facilities and office spaces at the WNY are inadequate to support NAVHISHERITAGECOM’s historic preservation mission and administrative requirements of the staff [emphasis mine]. The report goes on in the next paragraph “NAVHISTHERITAGECOM’s storage and preservation activities require temperature and humidity controls that are uniquely demanding and almost entirely unmet [emphasis mine]. Consequently, the history and heritage of the United States Navy is in jeopardy [emphasis mine]. Some of the paintings, documents and artifacts are sensitive to fluctuations in humidity, temperature or both. … this combination provides the ideal environment for the development of mold, which can irreparably damage sensitive artifacts and documents. With some material, such as acetate based film, the media itself is subject to breakdown as a direct result of uncontrolled temperature and humidity conditions.” In the next paragraph of the report, “Many storage facilities have no air conditioning (A/C) or humidity controls. Many of the building envelops are subject to moisture problems from roofing, gutters, wall penetrations, old masonry joints and lack of moisture barriers. As a consequence, water intrusion problems overwhelm the natural dehumidification provided by the A/C systems.

The report goes on to mention that WNY Public Works and the Naval Facilities Engineering Command Washington have initiated studies an projects in 2011 to address some of the facility deficiencies at WNY, and that “[a] few projects are underway to address some of the most critical facility deficiencies, but not all of the projects that resulted from the studies were funded.” This portion of the report concludes, “The long range solution to correct all the facility issues will take significant time and funding and will be in funding competition with operational priorities” [emphasis mine].

Under the rubric of “Heritage Asset Management” the IG report offers but a short and cryptic paragraph: “The command is not conducting this program in accordance with DoD FMR Vol. 4, and therefore is not compliant with proper Asset Management practices [emphasis mine]. A personnel shortfall has been identified and additional personnel are slated for hire in FY13 to alleviate the situation. Additionally, NAVHISTHERITAGECOM has no technical personnel aboard who can properly maintain the Department of the Navy Heritage Asset Management system (DONHAMS). There are plans to move the system to Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), but funding for this initiative remains a challenge.”

One other matter of concern – one that I think reflects on Command oversight – is reported in an “Issue Paper” entitled “Echelon II Safety and Occupational Health Program Responsibilities” that is part of the IG’s report. I quote the paper in parts:

PROBLEM: Naval History and Heritage Command (NAVHISTHERITAGECOM) does not have a trained safety professional or a safety and occupational health (SOH) organization established within its headquarters to perform the required safety program responsibilities of an Echelon II command.

BACKGROUND: tasked with the mission to conserve and preserve Navy history and heritage, NAVHISTHERITAGECOM is a unique Echelon II command. To fulfill its mission, NAVHISTHERITAGECOM has divisions within the headquarters organization and one tier below, conducting high risk industrial operations that are normally found at aviation depots or shipyards. These operations include forklift material handling, diving, woodworking, restoration and maintenance of vintage weapons, ship systems and aircraft. At headquarters and NAVHISTHERITAGECOM’s Detachment Boston, these functions are carried out by government civilian staff members with the assistance of interns (when available). Subordinate activities such as museums, utilize volunteers in addition to staff to perform restoration.

The report goes on “[The command] is unable to assess the effectiveness of safety programs across its enterprise… They have not conducted required Safety and Occupational health Management Evaluations of subordinate activities. A recent review of industrial hygiene survey reports dating back to July 2010 for the Naval Air Museum Pensacola (NNAMP) reveal NNAMP employed improper procedures and processes to restore vintage aircraft. … These poor work practices resulted in personnel being exposed to toxic metal dust levels in excess of Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards, contamination of the workplace and potentially improper environmental releases. NNAMP has shut down aircraft restoration activities to prevent adding to the hazard, and additional corrective measures are pending. Due to NAVHISTHERITAGECOM’s lack of oversight of it [sic] subordinate activities, the command did not know of these issues until August 2011.

As you can see, this portion of the Navy Inspector General’s Report appears damningly critical of the Navy’s premier historical organization. The IG assesses that it is failing to fulfill its central mission, that of successfully protecting and preserving documents and artifacts that represent our Navy’s history and heritage. Moreover, the command appears to have failed its own workers in neglecting to establish proper oversight of safety and environmental matters within the organization. To be sure, efforts appear to be in place to effect changes here, but these efforts face both organizational inertia (command and navy-wide) and the challenges of competing with operational forces for funding in a time of potential huge military funding cuts.

Next week, I hope to report a conversation with the Naval History and Heritage Command’s Public Affairs people. From them I hope to learn what the Command has done to correct matters that may have been in place when the organization became an actual naval command-  in 2008 – almost four years ago.

I encourage readers who have had experience or interactions with the Command to tell me their stories. You can do this by “Commenting” at the bottom of this post. If you prefer to protect your identity, email me at thomaslsnyder@gmail.com. I assure you that your comments will be held in strictest confidentiality.

©2012 Thomas L Snyder

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