Dept. of Energy helps Hanford contractors fight whistleblowers

Dept. of Energy helps Hanford contractors fight whistleblowers

Credit: KING 5 News

Access to the Hanford Site is restricted. The 586-square-mile reserve is one of the most contaminated places in the Western Hemisphere, thanks to decades of plutonium production for the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

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by GARY CHITTIM / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @gchittimK5

KING5.com

Posted on April 29, 2013 at 5:57 PM

Updated Friday, Dec 13 at 6:04 PM

SEATTLE -- The Department of Energy (DOE) has contributed more than a million dollars to help contractors at the Hanford Nuclear fight a whistleblower complaint.

In 2010, Dr. Walter Tamosaitis reported his safety concerns over the design of the Hanford Waste Treatment Plant (WTP). Ultimately those concerns led to the suspension of construction of a key part of the plant until they were addressed.

When Tamosaitis was reassigned to another post after announcing his concerns, he filed a whistle blower complaint to get his job back.

Today, the watchdog group Hanford Challenge obtained DOE documents that show contractors were eligible for nearly two million dollars in tax payer dollars to pay for legal fees to fight Tamosaitis’s case.

Hanford Challenge Executive Director Tom Carpenter said using government money to help multi-billion dollar companies fight charges from a respected whistleblower could discourage other employees from pointing out serious safety flaws.

Tamosaitis, the former Research & Technology Manager for the Waste Treatment Plant, revealed problems that were ultimately determined legitimate and led to changes in the plant’s design. Construction has yet to resume on part of the project where he identified issues.

The Department of Energy issued the following response when asked why tax payer money is being used to pay for attorneys to fight against whistle blowers:

The Department of Energy enforces policies that protect whistleblowers from retribution. Contractor and federal employees must feel free to raise concerns about potential waste, fraud, abuse, and other issues related to the safe and efficient performance of work.

In general, reasonable contractor legal costs related to whistleblower allegations are allowable if the allegations are ultimately not substantiated. The Department evaluates contractors’ requests for reimbursement of legal expenses on a case-by-case basis, including costs related to defending against whistleblower allegations. This approach avoids imposing a presumption of liability based solely on allegations that have not been reviewed by the Department of Labor or a court of appropriate jurisdiction. A determination as to whether contractor legal costs related to whistleblower cases will be an allowable cost under the contract will not be made until the case is complete to ensure that all relevant information can be considered.

[See the KING 5 Investigators' ongoing coverage of the Hanford Site.]

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