ST. LOUIS — The number of missing or destroyed military records at a federal government warehouse in St. Louis is larger than initially believed.
A 2012 audit found that a file clerk at the National Personnel Records Center wrongly filed nearly three-fourths of 1,200 files assigned to him over a three-month period. But in a recent memo, the head of the National Archives wrote that nearly 4,000 records of individual federal employees were dumped, stashed or otherwise destroyed, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Federal inspectors said 4,000 documents were also discovered in 2011 when an older records center in suburban St. Louis was shut down. Employees found documents hidden in pillars and stuffed in the space between the floors and the lowest shelves.
Summarizing a recent investigation by the agency's Office of Inspector General and the FBI, U.S. Archivist David S. Ferriero said he was "outraged" to learn records "had been treated with such disregard." The investigation began in July 2012, when "a concerned citizen" notified the agency that discarded records had been found in the woods near Alton.
The records were not entire files, but individual documents that were supposed to be filed in larger folders, Ferriero wrote. Many were computer-generated notifications of the deaths of long-retired veterans. The center holds about 100 million records dating to the 1800s, more than half related to veterans.
Archives employee Stanley Engram later admitted destroying or deliberately mishandling more than 1,000 records by disposing of 241 in the woods, "abandoning" others in the building and throwing away others at home, according to federal criminal court files. Archives workers could earn bonus pay through an incentive program for completing more filings, which apparently led to some workers taking easier shortcuts.
No veterans have been denied benefits, Ferriero wrote, and some records can be reconstructed. But 132 people were notified that their "personal data was breached" and were offered credit monitoring services, according to the memo.
U.S. Attorney Richard Callahan said this month that an audit found only one veteran who had been affected, and that document was re-created.
Ferriero wrote that new security procedures are now in place. Employees and visitors are searched as they leave the center.
Engram and four other employees were later identified as having failed to properly handle records. Four resigned and the other was fired. Engram and Lonnie Halkmon each pleaded guilty last year to a misdemeanor charge of destruction of government records, and received two years of probation and 40 hours of community service.
The two men began working at the center through a student temporary employment program. In a December 2012 report, the Office of Inspector General faulted the verification process used to ensure that student workers were still enrolled in school.