John W. Taylor didn’t ask for it, but he got it anyway.
When the 65-year-old former Nevada Test Site worker asked the Department of Labor for his worker’s compensation file so he could proceed with his claim, he got not only a box of documents about his employment and medical history but also a list of 94 of his former co-workers and their Social Security numbers.
It was a mistake, the director of Workers’ Compensation Programs told him in a Feb. 1 letter from Washington, D.C.
So was the compact disc also sent to him that contained the same list.
“When that information was sent to you, personally identifiable information for other individuals was inadvertently included,” Director Shelby Hallmark wrote in the letter.
“By disseminating the information you received by accident, you are putting your colleagues at risk of identity theft and the often serious financial repercussions that accompany it,” Hallmark wrote.
Taylor, a heavy equipment repairman, said the Labor Department officials are trying to turn the tables on him and he doesn’t appreciate the actions they’re taking to badger him and cover their mistake, especially when they dispatched two inspector general agents to bang on his door one night in an attempt to retrieve the disc and the documents.
“They screwed up,” he said in an interview Wednesday at his North Las Vegas home.
“There’s one thing you have to understand about me. I’m not a liar and I’m not a thief,” he said.
Late Friday, in response to a query from the Review-Journal, Hallmark released a statement through his spokesman that acknowledges the mistake and says procedures are in place to prevent ones like it from occurring.
“Human error appears to be the culprit here and we’ve reviewed our procedures and tightened them to minimize the possibility of this ever happening again,” Hallmark’s statement reads.
“At the same time we hope that the individual in question will work with us in a responsible way by returning the personally identifiable information to mitigate the risk of having other people’s information unsecured,” Hallmark said.
Hallmark’s spokesman, Loren Smith, wouldn’t say whether any action would be taken against Taylor if he doesn’t meet a deadline to return the information. Nor would he say specifically what preventive measures are being taken or if employees for the departments of Labor or Energy will be held accountable.
“I can’t comment any more specifically other than we’ve reviewed our procedures with our employees,” Smith said.
Hallmark’s Feb. 1 letter notes that in 2005, more than 8 million Americans were victims of identity theft, which cost them an average of $2,000 each. The letter goes on to demand he meet a deadline today to return the disc and hard copies.
“We need to receive the documents, list of people the information was shared with, and the CD by February 9, 2008,” Hallmark wrote.
His letter was followed up with a phone call by Roberta Mosier, deputy director of the Labor Department’s Division of Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation.
According to Taylor, Mosier asked him whether he needed an extension on his deadline. “She says, ‘Do you need an extension?’ And I said, ‘You mean, do you need an extension?'”
Taylor received the box of papers at his home on Dec. 15. “It weighed 34 pounds, and 31 pounds of it was duplicate,” he said.
Several days later he received the disc with a Dec. 20 letter on Labor Department stationery signed by Mary Pierre, a workers compensation assistant. “Enclosed is a copy of the CD, which was received pursuant to a document acquisition request,” the letter reads.
Taylor said he was surprised that she sent him a disc because he had stated in writing that he wanted hard copies because he doesn’t have a computer.
Nevertheless, he used a computer at a public library to access the disc. Instead of his test site radiation exposure records that he was looking for, he found the same list of 94 of his former co-workers and their Social Security numbers that was in the box of papers. The list of former Reynolds Electrical & Engineering Co. workers is dated 1992 and marked “REECo company private.”
It also contains the names of 47 health protection and industrial hygiene specialists involved in screening workers for asbestos exposure.
Recognizing many of the names, on Jan. 2 he told one of his friends about it whose name was on the list.
The friend, in turn, called the Labor Department to complain that Social Security numbers were being sent out.
In the late afternoon on Jan. 11, Taylor was taking a nap and his dog started barking at a couple of men “wearing cheap suits,” he said, who were sitting in a black sport utility vehicle parked across the street from his house.
“At 5:30 p.m. they banged on my door,” Taylor said, but he didn’t open it. They went away.
“At 8 p.m., I started watching TV and they started banging on the door again and wouldn’t quit. As soon as I flipped the light on, they were standing there holding up their badges.
“One of them told me three times, ‘You haven’t done anything wrong, but you have federal documents and we’ve come to retrieve them,’ ” he said.
He said he only had his medical records but no federal records.
One of the agents, Taylor said, asked him: “Are you refusing to give us these documents?”
Taylor didn’t release the documents or the disc because, he said, “they didn’t have the authority.” Taylor said he thinks the records are the private property of now-defunct REECo.
The agents ultimately left.
Then, on Monday, an overnight FedEx package was delivered to his house containing some empty, addressed cardboard boxes with instructions from Hallmark to put the items the agents had sought into the box and mail them to a person at the Labor Department in Washington, D.C.
The person, Taylor said, “is an absolute stranger that Shelby Hallmark wants me to send privacy act material of other individuals through the mail.”
As of Friday, Taylor had not returned the disc or the documents. He said he was “going to play it by ear” while he proceeds with his claim to collect $150,000 plus medical expenses for illnesses that resulted from his Cold War service.
Taylor, a disabled man who lost an eye because of a work-related injury, is battling prostate cancer that he blames on exposure to radiation from resuspended fallout while he worked at the test site, 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas, from November 1969 to June 1976 and from 1981 to 1993.
He is one of the few remaining survivors of the 10-kiloton Baneberry underground nuclear weapons test that vented in 1970 and spewed deadly radioisotopes into the air.
Taylor said he thinks that from the way his case is being handled, the deck is stacked against him for proving that his bout with cancer and other illnesses are more than likely caused by exposures to radioactive materials and toxic chemicals where he worked at the test site.
“They do want you to die,” he said. “It’s sad, but it’s true. They don’t want to pay for the medical expenses for us people who are alive.”
Contact reporter Keith Rogers at email@example.com or (702) 383-0308.