thought we all agreed, as a society, not to mess around with fire prevention at a nuclear site. That seems like something we could all get behind, right? Think again.
Hanford Mission Integration Solutions (“HMIS”) has a contract to clean up the DOE Hanford Nuclear site. The Hanford site was established in 1943 as part of the Manhattan Project, and was used to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons, including those used in the Trinity Test and the “Fat Man” bomb detonated over Nagasaki during the final days of World War II.
Nowadays, the DOE is trying to clean up and decommission the site involving remediation and treatment of large quantities of radioactive and hazardous waste. On top of that, the contract calls for protecting the public, environment, and Hanford site workers from fire hazards as well as from potential radiological or other hazards that could arise from natural or human-created fire activity.
No biggie, right, just cleaning up nuclear waste and preventing massive wildfires. Wouldn’t be surprised if it took a lot of training and plenty of overtime. Apparently, that’s what HMIS supervisors and executives were thinking as they milked the contract for millions more than they should have received.
Instead of training to clean up nuclear waste or prevent wildfires, the contractors “regularly experienced extensive and unreasonable idle time on a daily or near-daily basis, due to HMIS’ failure to schedule and carry out work for them to perform.” That’s right, because the supervisors failed to give their employees work, they were idle. But the supervisors and executives wanted to make money for the time that their employeees were idle, they had them bill for that time as training.
From the complaint:
A fire protection worker who did not have any work to perform for an entire 10-hour day, and spent a portion of that day watching the film “There’s Something About Mary” at his desk, then charged the entire 10-hour day to the 600318 training code, which HMIS management approved and submitted to DOE for reimbursement.
Now, it’s one thing if there’s no work to do. But there was!
Again, from the complaint:
HMIS jeopardized the critical fire protection systems at Hanford because this extensive and unreasonable idle time occurred when there was, in fact, important fire protection work that could and should have been performed to safeguard the public, workers, and the environment from fire dangers, including during dangerous wildfire seasons.
And they billed for the work that had to be done at overtime rates.
The whistleblower was a sprinkler fitter who was not content to watch movies all day. Bradley Keever, a sprinkler fitter in the fire protection group at HMIS. For his trouble, he’ll be entitled to 15%-25% of any recovery.
This is not the first time a government contractor at Hanford has been accused of fraud. In 2020, Bechtel Corp and AECOM Energy & Construction agreed to pay $58 million to settle a similar improper billing civil suit. In 2019, Lockheed Martin was accused of misleading the government to improperly receive tens of millions of dollars. Another whistleblower case settled in 2018 for more than $5 million.