The Paducah Sun

October 2, 1999

Fowler associate supports claims

By Joe Walker
Sun Business Editor

A spokesman for whistleblower Ron Fowler says the head of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant guards' union "is engaging in a war of words for which he offers no evidence" that Fowler lied to a congressional subcommittee in saying that the guards harassed him.

John Kyte, a publicist for the law firm representing Fowler in the health physicist's federal lawsuit against the plant, said that when Fowler was in Washington for a House subcommittee hearing Sept. 22, he testified "as to what he was told, and we're absolutely confident in the truth that that is what he was told."

Kyte said John Driskill, president of United Plant Guard Workers of America Local 111, missed the point of Fowler's allegations. Driskill, whose statements were published Sept. 25 in the Sun, wrote 1st District Rep. Ed Whitfield on Thursday, asking for an investigation into Fowler's statements and for him to be prosecuted for perjury if warranted.

"The real issue here is that Mr. Driskill - in his eagerness to defend the guards, which I understand because he's their boss - appears not to understand the seriousness of what happened," Kyte said.

Driskill's letter says that Fowler's testimony, which alleged that security officers harassed him, damaged his car and posted his picture with a bullet hole in it, was "misleading and false." The letter says a health physics employee (in Fowler's work area) "who actually used a punch to make a hole in his picture as a joke, told him that is what happened. It is common knowledge."

Kyte said posting the picture was unlawful and harassing, regardless of who did it.

"That is against the law," he said. "That's what's important here. There are laws in place specifically prohibiting that kind of behavior and for him (Driskill) to think for a minute that that is a joke, it reveals an appalling indifference to the laws of the land."

Driskill, who met with Whitfield earlier to express his concerns, wrote that guards "feel we have been maligned and our reputations sullied. We call on the Congress to investigate the truthfulness of Mr. Fowler's statements to the subcommittee. If he is found to have lied to the standard of perjury, then justice demands he be held to account for doing so."

Fowler was a key witness in a lengthy hearing Sept. 22 before the House Subcommittee on Investigations and oversight. Whitfield, a committee member, called for the hearing to investigate claims by Fowler and others that the plant has poisoned workers and the public.

Whitfield spokesman Anthony Hulen said Friday that the Fowler-Driskill issue is an example of how complex the investigation is and how hard it will be to get to the truth.

"This is another of a growing list of allegations and counter-allegations that we want to bring out the facts on," Hulen said. "If a worker's life is being threatened, it's obviously a concern outside of what normal health risks there might be. But on the flip side, we want to get through all the jargon and what's not at the core of the problem so that we can concentrate on the problem itself."

Hulen said Fowler's allegations "are a part of the committee record" and will be investigated accordingly.

Fowler testified that security officers used his picture "for target practice," followed and harassed him, and searched his vehicle unnecessarily. Driskill denied that, saying the incidents were investigated by plant operator USEC Inc. and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and found to be untrue.

Kyte responded that Driskill has produced no evidence of USEC or NRC findings. "He (Driskill) is the one attacking Fowler for hearsay, and he's engaging in nothing but hearsay himself."

The Sun learned that Fowler reported the acts to superiors in June 1998, alleging they occurred more than six years earlier. The investigation was completed and a response given to him last December.

Kyte would neither confirm or deny Fowler's reported six-year lag in reporting the allegations. "I don't honestly know about that," he said. "It doesn't make the fact of the complaint any less relevant. ... At the end of the day, what matters is the truth, and the truth will come out here."

Officials for USEC, for which Fowler works, would not discuss the matter when asked last week, citing personnel reasons. But USEC Executive Vice President Jim Miller testified in the hearing that Fowler's allegations were investigated and factual discrepancies found. He said Fowler's vehicle was searched but no more than normal. An employee was reprimanded for hanging Fowler's photo with a hole in it, he said.

Fowler testified that he became a whistleblower after being told of the picture incident and receiving an unsatisfactory response from management that it was "a joke." He said he had "already been denied a promotion, and management was taking other actions to harass and intimidate me for continuing to report defects."

He said he consulted a Washington law firm last year to file a harassment and intimidation complaint with the Department of Labor. He said USEC and Lockheed Martin, which at the time was operating the plant, refused to settle, calling his concerns "insignificant."

Later, Fowler claimed, he and others "found documents showing significant offsite contamination of plutonium." That led to a whistleblowers' lawsuit filed earlier this year by Washington attorney Joseph Egan. The case set off an avalanche of publicity and investigations by the Department of Energy and Congress.