Shy, but Not Retiring

Colonel Bishop, Rocky Mountain Arsenal boss, has left the Army--but he's already back on the job.

Years of legal wrangling followed to determine how the arsenal would be cleaned up and who would pay. In 1992 Congress designated the site a refuge in the making, pleasing supporters of a wildlife outpost so close to an urban center--and saving countless millions because the arsenal would avoid the full cleanup necessary to make the land fit for human habitation. The remediation is slated to take another eleven to fourteen years. After that, the Army will continue to be responsible for the buried waste.

Despite Shell's involvement in the initial contamination, the taxpayers are picking up most of the tab. Last year, for example, the Department of Defense spent $75 million to Shell's $20 million; this year the DOD will pay $81 million and the oil company $30 million. The remediation's final price tag: $2 billion plus.

Compared to that, Bishop's dual paychecks may seem like a contaminated molehill. But his hiring is not exactly business as usual.

Although it had been standard Army practice to rotate the arsenal's top commander every two years, Bishop had been in place since 1991. Roland Russell, a Commerce City resident and member of the arsenal's Restoration Advisory Board, says he's fielded calls from arsenal employees and environmentalists concerned about both Bishop's tendency to be "too cost-conscious" and the way he got rehired at the arsenal. "The method of his hiring," Russell concedes, "has been secretive, at best."

In most cases, retiring senior Army officers must enter a one-year "cooling off" period before they can re-enter the government; even then, according to Army policy, they "may not attempt to influence any official action in the department where the last year of active duty was performed." That policy was put in place to thwart the "old boys' network," explains Alfred H. Novotne, the Army's ethics attorney.

But Bishop could bypass that requirement because his arsenal deal "is not a direct hire," says CBDCOM's Parker. "Technically speaking, the university hired him." And the Army expects to extend the arrangement for at least two years, probably using the Intergovernmental Personnel Act, which allows the government to hire back its own retirees as "experts" in a particular field. Bishop "is preeminently qualified" for the consultant position, Parker adds. "In no way was it intended to cook the books."

It makes sense to have a civilian in charge when the arsenal's sole remaining mission is cleanup, says Howard Roitman, hazardous materials and waste-management division director for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. "I think he [Bishop] has done a very good job at working with his partners," says Roitman, who's served on the arsenal project for a decade. "It's important to maintain continuity."

Besides, Roitman points out, the state health department and the EPA are charged with making sure the Army and Shell live up to their 1996 cleanup agreement. That Record of Decision, the product of further negotiations, is now the official remediation roadmap.

Bishop's arsenal tenure--both past and proposed--gets high marks from Chris Wyatt, head of the Tri-County Health Department, whose territory and jurisdiction overlap the arsenal's. Bishop has created "a different level of dialogue" between the Army and other agencies, Wyatt says, resulting in "a more effective cleanup. There's a dynamic out there that works well. If it's not broke, don't break it."

"I would characterize the colonel's role as one of responsible accommodation of all interests," agrees Edgar Benton, who has worked on the arsenal project as a lawyer for Shell. "I am unaware of any instance in which the colonel did not give an audience to anyone with a legitimate interest in the site."

Not many citizens' groups would agree. "I think his performance lacks the diligence the job deserves," says Dan Mulqueen, a longtime activist. "His management and decision-making have been turned over to Shell."

John Yelenick, co-chair of the Restoration Advisory Board, which was formed to give citizens a voice in the cleanup project, says that during his four years on the board, he's never seen Bishop attend a meeting. Yelenick, one of the most active lay experts on the arsenal, says he can't judge Bishop's performance because he's never met him. "I can't link what I perceive to be the weaknesses and subterfuge that I see going on out there to one man," he adds.

Other critics of the arsenal cleanup, however, see Bishop's role as pivotal. "The program manager sets the tone for the entire site," says an official with a long history of arsenal involvement. "He sets the schedule, the mood, the dynamics."

Although his staff preaches a commitment to openness and re-establishing public trust, Bishop himself would not agree to an interview. Arsenal spokeswoman Mecham describes the chain-smoking Texas native as a "shy" person who for the past seven years has deferred all media contact to her. Bishop, a grandfather, puts in long hours on the job, she says, then likes to go home to watch the news with his wife or take an occasional trip to the zoo or the natural history museum.

"He's a hands-on kind of guy," says Mecham. Talking to the media "is not his style."

But just after his arrival at the arsenal, Bishop wasn't as retiring. According to a 1991 interview in the Christian Science Monitor, Bishop "stressed that he wants to see the facility 'become a learning resource...sort of campus,' where cleanup technology could be shared with others. 'We are going to make our records open to the public...There is no reason why the people should not have a return on their investment.'"

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