Washington Navy Yard gunman's employers point fingers over his record

Reuters

By Phil Stewart and Tabassum Zakaria

WASHINGTON, Sept 27 (Reuters) - Two defense contractors whoemployed Washington Navy Yard gunman Aaron Alexis are pointingfingers at one another after keeping him on the job despite hismental health problems.

The dispute this week led contractor Hewlett-Packard to cancel its work with Florida-based subcontractor, TheExperts, which hired Alexis to do information technology work onU.S. Navy bases.

Authorities on federal contract law say the finger-pointingmay have broader implications if families of the 12 victims ofthe Sept. 16 shootings file lawsuits. Alexis was killed bypolice in a gun battle.

HP wrote in a letter to The Experts CEO Thomas Hoshko,obtained by Reuters, that it "has lost all confidence in TheExperts' ability to meet its contractual obligations and serveas an HP subcontractor."

The Experts fired back a note saying it "had no greaterinsight into Alexis' mental health than HP."

The Navy asked HP in a Sept. 23 letter to report back thisweek about any "adverse information" it provided or did notprovide so far about Alexis.

A Navy official, speaking on condition of anonymity, saidfederal regulations require contractors to report adverseinformation, which includes "any information that adverselyreflects upon the integrity or character of a cleared employee."

A U.S. Senate committee has scheduled a hearing on Mondaythat will explore how Alexis secured a clearance that he used toenter Navy installations. A 2007 background investigationallowed him to gain clearance after joining the Navy Reserve.

In August, just weeks before the shooting, a Newport, RhodeIsland police report showed that Alexis told police he washearing voices in a hotel while there on a business trip.

HP, in severing ties to The Experts, said the company failedto respond appropriately to Alexis' mental health issues.

In its response, The Experts said HP had a site managerclosely supervising Alexis, including when he was in RhodeIsland.

WORKED AT SEVERAL MILITARY SITES

Before the shooting, Alexis had been sent to militaryinstallations in Little Creek, Virginia, Newport, Rhode Island,Cherry Point, North Carolina and the Washington D.C. area,according to a letter from Hoshko to the Navy obtained byReuters.

Alexis arrived in the Washington area on Aug. 25, staying attwo different hotels before moving to a Residence Inn inWashington D.C. on Sept. 7. He remained there until theshooting, the FBI said.

It said that on Sept. 16, he passed through Navy Yardsecurity, parked in an employee garage and entered Building 197with a sawed-off shotgun in a backpack. The weapon had phrasesscratched into it, including "End to the torment."

The FBI said Alexis thought for months he was beingcontrolled by ultra-low frequency waves.

The Experts acknowledged that it pulled Alexis off hisNewport assignment for a few days rest. But the company allowedhim to return to work after speaking with people with whomAlexis had been in contact.

"Alexis' performance after he returned to work wassatisfactory," a source close to The Experts said.

The Experts CEO Hoshko, in a letter Thursday to staff whowere affected by the Navy Yard shooting, said: "I truly believewe have continued to meet all our obligations and know that ourvalued and trusted employees have done nothing wrong."

Monday's Senate hearing will examine the limits ofbackground investigations.

The investigation of Alexis did not pick up on his use of afirearm in Seattle in 2004 to shoot out a car's tires.

Frederic Levy, a suspension and debarment lawyer at McKennaLong and Aldridge, said "there is no bright line" on whatprecise kinds of employee behavior have to be reported to thegovernment.

For example, a person suffering mild depression due tofamily problems may be getting weekly professional help. Thatdoes not necessarily need to be reported.

"There is a point in time where I think that mentalinstability would trigger a reporting requirement," he said.

Hans von Spakovsky, senior legal fellow at The HeritageFoundation, said acting too precipitously against an employeewith mental issues may trigger a discrimination lawsuit underthe Americans with Disabilities Act.

"Companies are put into kind of a Catch-22 these days," hesaid. "They've got this very narrow knife edge to run between onthe one hand protecting everyone and on the other hand notviolating the Americans with Disabilities Act."

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