SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE — An F-18 Hornet broke loose of its tow bar and careened across the darkened tarmac.
An airman sprinted to the plane, frantically grabbed for a handhold, clinging to the aircraft while paddling his feet trying to become a human brake. Someone threw a chock under a wheel and stopped the runaway jet fighter before any airmen or aircraft got hurt.
It’s a story Scott Air Force Base won’t confirm, but Michael McGovney of Mascoutah says there’s a reason: Airmen shouldn’t have been towing the plane in the first place. It was his job.
“They were jeopardizing $40 million in aircraft to save $40 in overtime,”
said McGovney, who was project manager for a private contractor that worked
with visiting aircraft at Scott during the time. “My other concern was
that every time they did this, some young airman
was either going to kill himself or kill somebody else.”
McGovney said the episode nearly three years ago and others like it prompted him to start an investigation that eventually cost him his job.
This month, McGovney filed a whistle-blower lawsuit in federal court that claims Scott officials conspired with a private contractor to fire him from his job supervising contract employees at the base.
A Scott spokesman said she couldn’t comment about the lawsuit.
“My original complaint was that they were having unqualified people working on airplanes,” said McGovney, 50. “There’s a whole lot of difference between an F-14 or and F-18 and a C-9.
“I went to everybody who was in the chain of command for three years and finally there were a couple of incidents that I couldn’t sit on. I tried to get the commanders to act and was blown off.”
On Feb. 15, 1995, McGovney sent a letter to U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello, a Belleville Democrat, detailing his concerns.
“The only thing left was to take it to the civilian leaders who are supposed to be in charge of the military,” McGovney said. “I didn’t want to do that — I’d been in the military 20 years, and the last thing I wanted to do was go to a congressman.”
McGovney said he is uncomfortable suing the Air Force, which he has
served his entire adult life. He spent 20 years in the Air Force, where
he maintained a variety of aircraft and instructed other airmen on aircraft
maintenance. He retired as a master sergeant in 1985 and began
a second career doing the same thing for private contractors.
In October 1992, McGovney came to Scott to take over as project manager for the “transient alert” aircraft operations contract that had been awarded to his boss, Contract Services Unlimited.
Since 1981, Scott has hired private contractors to handle parking, refueling and basic maintenance on transient aircraft — aircraft that are not assigned to Scott but are using the base as a stopover en route to somewhere else.
Transient crews are supposed to be able to handle a little bit of everything, from tankers and cargo planes to the latest Air Force and Navy fighters. They have special training and checklists for each type of aircraft.
But under the contract terms, the transient crews are on duty from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends and holidays. If a transient aircraft is coming in any other time, contract workers are supposed to be called in to handle it, McGovney said.
But McGovney and other workers claim that base officials have for years avoided calling in the contractors. Instead, they assign the job to the Air Force flight-line crews that normally handle the base’s C-9 Nightingales, a modified version of the DC-9 commercial airliner.
McGovney said he began questioning the practice soon after coming to Scott.
A spokesman for Costello said McGovney’s letter was forwarded to the Air Force, which responded March 9, 1995.
McGovney said the Air Force then began questioning his performance and
even forced him to face an administrative hearing, which found in his favor,
according to the lawsuit. He said Scott officials began a campaign to discredit
him and Contract Services Unlimited, but wouldn’t
give specific details because of the pending lawsuit.
Base spokesman 2nd Lt. Beth Houston on Friday was unable to provide information about McGovney’s work, the contract with Contract Services or why the contract was awarded to a new vendor, Specialized Services Inc., in October 1996.
Specialized Services has had contracts at Scott for several years, cleaning buildings and running food services, but this is their first time running flight-line operations.
Elizabeth “Janie” Rogers, Specialized Services’ manager on the base,
was indicted in federal court last month on charges that she falsified
payroll documents and then attempted to interfere with an investigation
of the payroll fraud. The charges are not related to the transient
contract, which Rogers also manages.
Rogers initially kept McGovney and his crew running the flight line, but fired him Oct. 11, 1996, he said.
McGovney’s attorney, Greg Roosevelt, said he and his client tried to work through the system before filing the whistle-blower lawsuit but were frustrated with the lack of progress.
McGovney said his biggest concern is that the base still is using unqualified personnel to handle transient aircraft.
“It’s an accident waiting to happen,” he said.
Originally Published, October 20, 1997, Belleville News Democrat,
(c) 1997, Belleville News-Democrat, Belleville, Ill
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