For Immediate Release
DOE Office of Inspector General Rewards Contractors for Non-Cooperation on Donna Busche’s Whistleblower Termination, Abdicates their Charter
Secretary of Energy On the Spot to Hold Contractors Accountable, Senator McCaskill Sends Letter, Requests DOE Briefing
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) today issued a Memorandum to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, declining to give an opinion on whether Hanford’ Nuclear Safety Manager Donna Busche, was inappropriately retaliated against for raising serious concerns about the safety and design of the Waste Treatment Plant (WTP).
The OIG cited the refusal of two Hanford contractors, URS, Inc. and Bechtel National, Inc., to provide 4,500 documents to the agency, which was requested to undertake the review by Moniz in March 2014.
In a 1.5 page Memorandum, the OIG report, the agency stated, “both contractors took the position that the documents in question were subject to either attorney-client or attorney work product privilege. Also URS made a unilateral determination that certain document were not relevant to our examination.”
The Inspector General, Gregory Friedman, pointed out in the Memorandum that “specific terms of the contract” required the contractors to “produce for government audit all documents acquired or generated under the contract, including those which attorney-client and attorney work product privilege was asserted.” But, he said, the contractors claimed that the contract provisions “were unenforceable.”
Based on the refusal of the contractors, the Memorandum concluded, “We were unable to complete our inquiry and accordingly disclaim any opinion regarding the circumstances of Ms. Busche’s termination.”
Hanford Challenge Executive Director Tom Carpenter responded to OIG’s Memorandum:
“This disclaimer by the Inspector General rewards contractors who are ignoring contract provisions and DOE requirements to cooperate with these kinds of investigations. If the shoe were on the other foot -- if it were Busche who refused to cooperate -- there is no doubt in my mind that the Inspector General would not have hesitated to issue findings against her. The Secretary of Energy is now in the spotlight on whether or not he will demand accountability from these contractors who have unilaterally asserted that they don't have to honor their contractual and legal commitments. In these circumstances, the OIG should have decided on the evidence available to them. In the end, this is another nail in the coffin for workers who, witnessing this charade, may decide to keep their mouths shut about serious safety concerns that could have catastrophic consequences down the road. ”
Senator Claire McCaskill, who held a hearing on March 11, 2104 about the retaliation against Hanford whistleblowers like Busche, immediately issued a letter to the Secretary of Energy, stating:
“According to the Inspector General, Bechtel and URS, the contractors involved in the matter, have refused to provide more than 4,500 documents to the Inspector General, claiming attorney-client privilege. I understand that the contractors have refused to provide these documents despite a clause in both the prime contract and subcontract which expressly consents to the provision of attorney-client privileged material to the Inspector General. I request that the Department provide a briefing to the Subcommittee about DOE's plans to address the contractors' lack of cooperation with the Inspector General's request. The briefing should also include the mechanisms that are available to the Department to hold the contractors accountable for their noncompliance, including withholding of fees and recovery of costs incurred by the Office of Inspector General. I request that this briefing be provided as soon as possible, but no later than October 31, 2014.”
- Letter, from Senator Claire McCaskill, Chairman, Subcomm. on Financial and Contracting Oversight, Homeland Security Committee, to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, October 20, 2014.
The OIG letter is available at http://energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2014/10/f18/IG-0923.pdf.
Hanford Challenge exists to transform Hanford’s nuclear legacy into a model of safe and effective cleanup.