DOE re­port: Han­ford at risk of fraud, mis­man­age­ment

Tri-City Herald - - Front Page - BY AN­NETTE CARY acary@tric­i­ty­her­

Mil­lions of tax­payer dol­lars are at risk at the Han­ford nu­clear reser­va­tion if the Depart­ment of En­ergy does not over­see the site’s con­trac­tors and sub­con­trac­tors more ag­gres­sively, ac­cord­ing to a new re­port.

The DOE Of­fice of In­spec­tor Gen­eral re­leased a new re­port this week sum­ma­riz­ing the numer­ous find­ings of fraud, mis­man­age­ment and safety con­cerns it has de­tailed in the past seven years at Han­ford.

“The Han­ford Site has been plagued with mis­man­age­ment, poor in­ter­nal con­trols and fraud­u­lent ac­tiv­i­ties, re­sult­ing in mon­e­tary im­pacts to­tal­ing hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars by the var­i­ous con­trac­tors in­volved at the site,” the Of­fice of In­spec­tor Gen­eral re­port said.

From fis­cal 2012 through fis­cal 2018, the of­fice has con­ducted 38 in­ves­ti­ga­tions and 24 au­dits and in­spec­tions at Han­ford.

The 580-square-mile Han­ford nu­clear reser­va­tion was used to pro­duce plu­to­nium for the na- tion’s nu­clear weapons pro­gram dur­ing World War II and the Cold War. Since then a mas­sive en­vi­ron­men­tal cleanup pro­gram has been un­der­way, with spend­ing of as much as $2.4 bil­lion an­nu­ally.

By point­ing out the many prob­lems with con­tract over­sight, qual­ity as­sur­ance, project man­age­ment, safety and out­right fraud at the site, the Of­fice of In­spec­tor Gen­eral hopes to prompt DOE to strengthen its over­sight of fed­eral op­er­a­tions and con­trac­tors at Han­ford, it said.

Al­though DOE has made im­prove­ments as in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­sults have been re­leased over the past seven years, weak­nesses con­tinue that re­sult “in an un­ac­cept­able level of risk of in­ap­pro­pri­ate charges to the govern­ment,” the new re­port said.

En­ergy Sec­re­tary Rick Perry said in a state­ment that he has “sought to end the type of waste, fraud and abuse de­tailed in the in­spec­tor gen­eral’s com­pi­la­tion of pre­vi­ous re­ports on Han­ford.”

“The re­ports have his­tor­i­cally

provided the depart­ment with valu­able rec­om­men­da­tions, over 85 per­cent of which have been im­ple­mented,” he said.

Of the 25 au­dits cov­ered in the new re­port, seven were is­sued dur­ing the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion, and five of those have been ad­dressed and closed. The new re­port will be help­ful as DOE con­tin­ues “to ag­gres­sively ad­dress” is­sues at Han­ford and other DOE en­vi­ron­men­tal cleanup sites, Perry said.

DOE has sug­gested that the Of­fice of In­spec­tor Gen­eral pre­pare sim­i­lar re­ports for other depart­ment sites, ac­cord­ing to DOE.

At Han­ford, the new re­port en­com­passed the govern­ment credit card and other pur­chas­ing fraud, with in­ves­ti­ga­tions and sen­tenc­ing wrap­ping up by fis­cal 2013.

Mul­ti­ple work­ers were found to have charged pur­chases like tele­vi­sions and home ap­pli­ances for their own use to the fed­eral govern­ment, or taken kick­backs for mak­ing pur­chases from cer­tain ven­dors. In one case, a worker made pur­chases on pa­per from his fam­ily’s com­pany but did not de­liver the goods for which the govern­ment paid.

In­ves­ti­ga­tions led to a jail sen­tence for one worker, the seizure of as­sets, and agree­ments that re­quired pay­ment of more than $1 mil­lion in resti­tu­tion.

The new re­port also cov­ered the Han­ford time­card fraud scan­dal. Some work­ers were found to be paid by the fed­eral govern­ment for hours not worked un­der an in­for­mal agree­ment. They were of­fered over­time pay­ment for full eight-hour shifts at the Han­ford tank farms, even though they rou­tinely left after com­plet­ing as­sign­ments sooner.

Cur­rent tank farm con­trac­tor Wash­ing­ton River Pro­tec­tion So­lu­tions paid

$5.3 mil­lion and for­mer tank farm con­trac­tor

CH2M Hill Han­ford Group paid $18.5 mil­lion to set­tle al­le­ga­tions they sub­mit­ted false claims for over­time pay. Both de­nied wrong­do­ing.

Con­tract over­sight is­sues cov­ered by the re­port in­cluded al­le­ga­tions that Bech­tel Na­tional and URS, which was pur­chased by AECOM, charged DOE for ma­te­ri­als and ser­vices for the vit­ri­fi­ca­tion plant un­der con­struc­tion that failed to meet strict nu­clear qual­ity stan­dards.

The com­pa­nies paid $125 mil­lion in a set­tle­ment agree­ment with the Depart­ment of Jus­tice, which also set­tled some im­proper lob­by­ing al­le­ga­tions against Bech­tel. Nei­ther ad­mit­ted wrong­do­ing.

An­other Of­fice of In­spec­tor Gen­eral re­port ques­tioned de­lays in mov­ing ra­dioac­tive ce­sium and stron­tium stored un­der­wa­ter in cen­tral Han­ford to dry stor­age. The change would not only ad­dress safety is­sues raised about an ag­ing con­crete pool, but would save about $6.2 mil­lion a year, the re­port said.

Some Re­cov­ery Act money meant to stim­u­late the econ­omy un­der the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion was mis­spent at Han­ford, ac­cord­ing to a 2013 in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

It found that $1.5 mil­lion more than needed was spent on pur­chas­ing or leas­ing mod­u­lar struc-


tures for of­fices and other uses for new em­ploy­ees as staffing ramped up quickly. Some struc­tures went un­used and oth­ers were un­der­used, the re­port said.

DOE has taken ac­tions in re­sponse to au­dits that have in­cluded with­hold­ing in­cen­tive pay to con­trac­tors.

It has turned to in­dus­try ex­perts to in­de­pen­dently assess pro­grams to as­sure that qual­ity stan­dards are met. It also has in­creased fed­eral over­sight to help pro­tect against fraud­u­lent prac­tices.

There also have been ques­tions raised about whether work­ers feel free to raise is­sues of safety with­out fear of re­tal­i­a­tion. Is­sues range from re­port­ing chem­i­cal va­pors to al­le­ga­tions that prac­tices were not be­ing fol­lowed to en­sure the vit­ri­fi­ca­tion plant would op­er­ate safely and ef­fec­tively.

DOE’s re­sponse has in­cluded de­vel­op­ing new train­ing for man­agers and su­per­vi­sors and es­tab­lish­ing a DOE-wide Safety Cul­ture Im­prove­ment Panel made up of lead­er­ship from across the depart­ment.

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