Congressman’s office won’t release VA data about radiation dump under Brentwood School and dog park. EnviroReporter.com and Los Angeles CityBeat repeatedly denied access to 5,500-plus pages of VA documents. Waxman staff stonewall media as repeated promises to disclose information are broken Critics cry foul over refusal to provide answers about nuclear dump in the district of “Congressman FOIA” Second Phase of nuke dump testing in limbo Children and adults still accessing dump despite warnings
The office of Congressman Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) has refused repeated requests by EnviroReporter.com and Los Angeles CityBeat to see 5,500 pages of information supplied to him by the Department of Veterans Affairs regarding the West Los Angeles VA. Both news outlets, represented by this reporter, have even offered to visit the Congressman’s office to simply see what information he has regarding the biomedical nuclear dump in Waxman’s district.
Waxman has had this information since December 2006 and has offered a variety of reasons for not sharing the information. The excuses range from we haven’t had time to review it’ to ‘we’re just about done — you just wanted the dump stuff, right?’ The longtime Congressman, and Chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, is also portrayed by staffers as not wanting to share any “sensitive financial” documents that might violate an agreement with VA Secretary R. James Nicholson.
Rude behavior aside, Waxman’s office finally promised, after many delays over half a year, to produce the information on Brentwood’s forgotten nuke dump by Friday, June 15, one day before the 49th Annual Southern California Journalism Awards gala at the Biltmore in downtown LA . “That way you can wave the papers to the crowd when you win!” a cheerful staffer chirped, referring to my being a finalist in the Los Angeles Press Club competition. (I ended up winning Print Journalist of the Year (under 100,000 circ.) for Los Angeles CityBeat and EnviroReporter.com took home First Place for its “Real Hot Property” series.)
Yet we still are unable to pry the information about the dump out of Waxman’s office. This is somewhat surprising considering that the representative is supposedly a champion of open government. Waxman is a co-sponsor of H.R. 1309: Freedom of Information Act Amendments of 2007 which passed in the House in March and moves on to the Senate. “This bill contains more than a dozen provisions that will increase public access to information and strengthen the Freedom of Information Act,” Waxman said in his opening statement March. “These provisions will help FOIA requesters obtain timely responses and decrease the backlogs at agencies. They will increase transparency in agency compliance with FOIA.”
Timeliness and transparency rules needn’t worry Waxman — the congressman isn’t under FOIA jurisdiction so we can’t even force a turnover of documents about the VA nuclear dump. And this is information Waxman wanted in March 2006, information that the representative’s staffer said was “inspired” by our investigation.
This is doubly-puzzling considering what Waxman told us June 21, 2006. “I am concerned about the possible environmental hazards at the VA site. In order to understand the extent of the problem, earlier this year I wrote to Secretary Nicholson asking the Department for all related documents. I hope these materials will allow us to evaluate the extent of the problem and determine what follow up is needed, including testing and remediation. To protect our veterans, the VA staff and public who use the property, we need to understand and minimize any environmental risks posed by the site.”
This is the same congressman who was adamant about open government in front of an audience of students at USC in April, 2006. “The government has become obsessed with secrecy,” Waxman said. “Arrogance, secrecy, intolerance of dissent and lack of accountability are the main issues that need to be addressed in America’s government.”
Waxman’s withholding of the VA nuke dump information has troubled Dr. Bennett Ramberg, a longtime Brentwood dump observer, nuclear issues expert and runner up for best signed commentary, over 100,000 circulation, at the Los Angeles Press Club gala.
“I don’t know what the resistance is,” Ramberg told EnviroReporter.com. “What’s the cover up for? Is he suggesting that the documentation is confidential? He’s Mr. Whistleblower himself so this is incomprehensible.”
“This is a public issue that matters to his constituency,” Ramberg continued. “Waxman has made his reputation exposing public impropriety and this is a responsibility of his to reveal the good and the bad in regards to this nuclear dump.
Waxman’s refusal to release any information about the Brentwood dump, and the continuing controversy it has engendered, doesn’t bode well for plans to test for radiation. The Phase 1 test results still haven’t been released as Los Angeles CityBeat reported back in March, and there’s no guarantee that there’ll be a Phase 2 where the serious dump drilling and coring were promised.
“I have to wait and see what the Secretary says about the Phase 1 report and how he wants to handle it,” West LA VA executive director Charles Dorman told EnviroReporter.com April 2. “You know, I think that the important part of all this is that we stepped up to voluntarily do this Phase 1 study. We did what we said we’d do. The results of the study are done. We’ll wait to see what the Secretary says about being able to disclose what’s in there. I hope we can.”
Until then, a nervous public and exasperated reporters will just have to cool their heels wondering how hot the dump is. While Waxman’s office wiles away the days in regards to this dump, perhaps Governor Schwarzenegger may take an interest in the issue. After all, his kids go to Brentwood School, the same Brentwood School that government documents say is built over a nuclear waste site, the same dump that Congressman Henry Waxman won’t reveal the secrets of for reasons still unclear.