August 18, 2003

Michehl Gent, President
North American Electric Reliability Council
116-390 Village Blvd
Princeton, NJ 08540

Dear Mr. Gent:

As you begin your investigation of last week's blackout, I am writing on behalf of Ohio Citizen Action's 100,000 members, and with the benefit of a quarter-century of experience with FirstEnergy.

Understanding how the blackout was triggered will depend on open and honest reports from the workers directly involved in the events. That is why we strongly urge you to adopt investigative procedures with special care to protect FirstEnergy employees and contractors from pressure, intimidation and reprisals from the company.

Unfortunately, such tactics have been the hallmark of FirstEnergy's operations, and have been well-documented. The ongoing Davis-Besse fiasco is a good example:

FirstEnergy's own internal examination showed just how bad it is inside the company: On April 15, 2003, the company released results of a survey of employees and contractors working on the crippled Davis-Besse plant.

". . .8 percent of the more than 1,100 people surveyed said they had been subjected to some kind of retaliation or harassment for raising nuclear safety, quality or compliance concerns in the previous six months, up slightly from the same survey question taken last August. Fifteen percent of employees and contractors said they knew of other workers who were harassed or retaliated against in the previous six months for raising safety or quality concerns," Jim Mackinnon, Akron Beacon Journal, April 16, 2003.

That's 88 people in six months; and that's only the ones who were willing to speak out again. In any other company, such a record would provoke a top-to-bottom shake-up. At FirstEnergy, managers said it showed they were improving.

One such incident occurred to Andrew Siemaszko, an engineer who "had been urging the utility to clean rust from the plant's reactor head almost from the day he was hired in 1999 as a lead nuclear systems engineer with a FirstEnergy subsidiary. When he and a crew of workers were finally allowed to work on the problem during the plant's 2000 refueling outage, the complaint claims, there was so much rust accumulated on the reactor head that workers used crowbars to pry it off," Tom Henry, Toledo Blade, February 19, 2003. FirstEnergy fired Siemaszko for his continuing insistence on following safety procedures. See also "Andrew Siemaszko, complainant, v. First Energy Nuclear Operating Company, respondent," U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

In another case, three employees were threatened in separate incidents "after they questioned whether a job was being done properly. One worker's auto tires were slashed in early January, said [attorney Howard] Whitcomb, after the employee stopped a project in the reactor containment building over a safety issue," John Funk, Cleveland Plain Dealer, February 1, 2003.

The company hired a 'safety culture' expert, Dr. Sonja Haber, to examine their operations. She found a "widespread perception of 'them versus us' within the organization, particularly among some senior managers with regard to Station personnel. . . . . At the time of the evaluation, Station personnel stated that they had been working extended hours (e.g., 12 hours per day, 6 days a week or 10 hours a day, 7 days a week) for periods of six months and more," Dr. Sonja Haber, Performance, Safety, and Health Associates, Inc., April 14, 2003.

The general pressure on employees by FirstEnergy management led Ohio Citizen Action file a formal complaint with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. (Allegation by Ohio Citizen Action that Davis-Besse employees are required to work unrealistic work schedules, leaving them unfit-for-duty, Amy Ryder, Cleveland Program Director, Ohio Citizen Action, to James Heller, Senior Allegations Coordinator, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, December 13, 2002 (6).

The overall situation was well-summarized by Paul Blanch and Ulrich Witte, who learned about 'safety culture' at Millstone in Connecticut. They "said they believe that FirstEnergy's charges against Andrew Siemaszko will discourage other employees from coming forward -- regardless of whether Mr. Siemaszko proves he is a whistleblower who was wrongfully terminated. 'It is just sending a horrible, horrible message to the employees that if they [FirstEnergy management] can get away with it, they will,' Mr. Blanch said. 'The message is out there that the utility is persecuting whistleblowers.'. . . 'I guarantee there will never be a credible witness who will step forward and speak honestly about what happened at that plant, because of this,' [Ulrich Witt] added," Tom Henry, Toledo Blade, April 29, 2003.

I assure you that these characteristic and ongoing patterns will extend into your blackout investigation unless you take special precautions to protect employees and contractors.

Please let me know if I can help further.


Shari Weir
Cleveland Program Director
(216) 861-5200
(216) 694-6904 FAX

Identical letters to -

Spencer Abraham, Secretary, U.S. Department of Energy
Herbert Dhaliwal, Minister of Natural Resources, Government of Canada
Pat Wood III, Chair, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
Billy Tauzin, Chair, U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee
Alan Schriber, Chair, Public Utilities Commission of Ohio
Michehl Gent, President, North American Energy Reliability Council