WASHINGTON — Contractors who do government work in the Navy Yard area said Tuesday that they don't feel safe at their jobs after learning that contractor Aaron Alexis was cleared to work at the military facility despite a discharge from the Navy following aggressive and violent behavior.
"It's shocking," said Sidney Antommarchi, an enterprise architect for a firm that manages contracts for the Department of Defense. "I would expect a security clearance investigation would have turned up something like that."
Antommarchi spoke Tuesday outside his workplace near the Residence Inn, the hotel where Alexis was staying with other contractors who worked at the Navy Yard. The hotel is a few blocks away from the facility, where police on Monday shot and killed Alexis after he killed 12 people with a shotgun he brought to work.
The hotel neighborhood is full of cafes and fast-food restaurants where government workers and contractors who work in the government installations nearby go for lunch. The security badges that give workers access to the buildings and offices were visible around almost every neck Tuesday.
Antommarchi said he has held "top-secret" clearance in the past and said he was mystified that Alexis would qualify for legitimate access to the Navy Yard.
Antommarchi says many non-government workers who fill numerous jobs within the military in Washington are shocked that Alexis was cleared by security protocols to work at the Navy Yard given his history.
A Navy official speaking on the condition of anonymity said Alexis was honorably discharged in January 2011 for "a pattern of misconduct" that included a 2010 gun incident in his Fort Worth, Texas, apartment in which he fired a bullet into his ceiling. The bullet blasted through the floor of his upstairs neighbor, a woman who had been feuding with Alexis about noise issues.
Alexis was arrested but never charged due to lack of evidence of a crime. He told police he was cleaning his weapon and it went off accidentally, according to news media reports including the Associated Press.
Alexis was arrested in Seattle in 2004 for allegedly shooting out the tires of another man's car in what detectives described as an anger-fueled "blackout," Seattle police said Monday according to CBS News. He was not convicted in that incident, either.
The incidents did not prevent him from getting a civilian job recently at the Navy Yard. He was hired as a technical worker for a Hewlett-Packard subcontractor that is maintaining computer systems at Navy installations worldwide. The FBI said Alexis gained access to the Navy Yard with a valid pass obtained as part of his work as a contractor.
"I would expect a security clearance investigation would have turned up something like that," said Antommarchi, who works for ICF International on a contract for the Defense Contract Management Agency.
Alexis' discharge papers should have provided a clue that something was amiss, Antommarchi said.
Robert Hatchett, a contractor who manages a conference center for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) next-door to the hotel where Alexis stayed, said he feels "very secure" at his building, except for one type of incident that he doesn't think the security staff he works with on a regular basis could easily thwart.
"I'd be worried about workplace violence, somebody with mental issues that had legitimate access to the building," Hatchett said. "Whether that's the case at the Navy Yard is unclear" because the shooter's motives are still unknown, he said.
Hatchett faults the Navy for not following up on Alexis after his discharge, run-ins with law and while he was being treated by the Veterans Administration for hearing voices.
"It's unfathomable they wouldn't have got a handle on that" and hadn't revoked his security clearance, Hatchett said.
Asked whether he'd feel safe working at the Navy Yard in the future, Hatchett said: "I would now. I think they'll ramp up security. I don't think that will happen again."
The Navy has not revealed what goes into its security checks on outside contractors who work at the Navy Yard or other military facilities. Time magazine reported this week that a soon-to-be-released government audit says the Navy may have weakened security measures at the Navy Yard to save money.
A federal official with access to the audit by the Department of Defense Inspector General's office told Time that the report says the Navy "did not effectively mitigate access-control risks associated with contractor-installation access" at the Navy Yard and other naval installations.
The risks resulted from an attempt by Navy officials "to reduce access-control costs," the audit said. The Pentagon inspector general began the audit in September 2012 and in August 2013 posted an update to its website stating it was expected to be released within the next 30 days.
Antommarchi said his own "top-secret" security clearance investigation included a criminal background check, a credit review and interviews with every one of his references, he said. Contractors with such clearances know that even late payments on bills would raise a red flag.
"Everybody that works in that kind of environment expects that all those things are being checked," he said.
If he worked in the Navy Yard complex, he'd "absolutely" feel unsafe, Antommarchi said. "It's a failure that needs to be looked into."
Contributing: Jim Michaels