LAYTON, Utah (ABC 4 News) - A former employee of Hill Air Force base is claiming he was wrongfully terminated and now he's firing back at the military agency, which in turn has brought to the forefront questions over national security.
Steven Ward is a convicted felon. He is a former West Valley City police officer who pled guilty to importing anabolic steroids in 2006. He says when he applied for a security guard position at the Utah Test and Training Range (UTTR), he clearly stated on the application that he had a criminal background.
Ward was hired under a four year term and worked at UTTR for almost three years. He was issued a 10 year security clearance, which allowed him access to top-secret and sensitive information. He was also issued a firearm every day that he was on the job. Then, out of the blue, Ward was fired in Sept, 2012.
Hill AFB says Ward never acknowledged that he was a convicted felon. However, federal documents signed by Ward when he was hired indicated he did disclose that he had a criminal background. Ward completed and signed a "Declaraion for Federal Employment". In the declaration, Ward was asked, "During the last 10 years have you been convicted, imprisoned, or on probation or parole?" Ward answered affirmatively.
Prior to being officially terminated from his position, Ward was placed on administrative leave.
"A supervisor showed up at my work site and told me that he had found out about a conviction I had, and I said of course you do, I disclosed it when I started. He took my gun, weapon, and everything, and sent me back into the office," said Steve Ward.
Ward believes the administrative leave and subsequent termination are the results of a whistle blowing incident that Ward tried to bring to the attention of supervisors during his employment. "We had some overtime issues. We were short staffed. People were working excessive hours. So we tried addressing it with supervisors and nothing really progressed," said Ward. After jumping through several hoops to bring the issue to upper management, Ward was let go. "I spoke with the director one more time and he said if I didn't like it, I could quit. Things weren't gonna change," said Ward.
Ward is in the process of appealing his termination with Hill AFB. His attorney, Lindsay Jarvis points out that Ward's termination raises issues and concerns over national security and possible cracks in Hill's policy over hiring convicted felons.
In addition to issuing Ward a firearm and granting him security clearance during his employment, he says his superivsors at Hill made another security breach following his termination. After he was officially terminated, he was called to UTTR, where he relinquished all of his department equipment. After turning in his equipment, he was given back his Government Access I.D. which had previously been taken from him on administrative leave. Ward says he was asked to go back to Hill AFB to turn in some papers, where he entered the Base without an escort, and was left unattended for several hours
Jarvis says the bigger picture here is national security. Even though Ward is a convicted felon, he's not a violent felon. Jarvis points out that the situation could have been much worse if Hill had granted clearance and given a gun to a violent criminal or even a terrorist .
In a letter Jarvis sent to top officials at Hill AFB, she states, "Clearly, the issues surrounding Mr. Ward's case present significant deficiencies with the hiring process at Hill Air Force base, and more importantly present alarming issues of national security. Fortunately in this case Hill Air Force Base made an error with an honest and integral human being. However, had this mistake been made with a violent felon, or an individual with terrorist ties, Hill Air Force Base could be looking at significant problems. Hill Air Force base inadvertently hired a convicted felon, provided him with a wespon on a daily basis, granted him access to top secret national security information, and then subsequently terminated him, but allowed him to return to a federal military base unattended as a "disgruntled ex-employee" with an ID card that allowed him access to sensitive military information."
Currently Ward is awaiting a hearing before the United States Merit Systems Protection Board over the termination. Ward is asking that he be given another job at Hill at the same pay rate, and also for back pay for the months that he's been terminated. Ward says if a resolution is not met, he will file a civil lawsuit.
Michael Bassett, an attorney for the Department of the Air Force is representing Hill AFB in this dispute. When asked for a statement, Bassett declined due to the pending litigation. Bassett also refused to officer Hill AFB's policy on hiring convicted felons.