By MIA STEINLE
Government investigators have uncovered conflicts of interest among the contractors working on a multi-billion dollar effort to decontaminate and decommission two of the nation’s nuclear weapons sites.
Contractors at plants in Piketon, Ohio, and in Oak Ridge, Tenn., were overseeing work by subcontracting companies in which they hold a financial interest, according to a report from the Department of Energy (DOE) Inspector General.
According to federal and DOE regulations, this arrangement means the contractors are “unable to render impartial assistance or advice to the government,” and their “objectivity in performing the contract work is or might be otherwise impaired,” the report said.
The investigation found that contractor Restoration Services Inc. (RSI) was overseeing the work of subcontractor VETCO at both nuclear sites, even though RSI holds a financial interest in VETCO.
RSI performs “environmental restoration projects,” including waste clean-up and solar energy development for the DOE, according to its website. VETCO specializes in “environmental services and staff augmentation,” according to its website. Both are located in Oak Ridge, Tenn.
In a written response to the Inspector General’s office, the manager of the project at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Ohio agreed to the Inspector General’s recommendation to “implement the effective process to assist with identifying, avoiding or mitigating [conflicts of interest].”
“However, we think this recommendation should be directed towards all offices and field sites,” and not just Portsmouth, the project manager wrote.
Additionally, the Inspector General’s investigation found that a senior RSI official working on behalf of contractor URS CH2M Oak Ridge (UCOR) on the project at the Oak Ridge Reservation in Tennessee “was in a position to review and approve work performed by the senior official's employer, RSI.”
UCOR is a partnership of URS and CH2M Hill, both of which have served as contractors on numerous Department of Energy projects.
The manager of the Oak Ridge project denied a conflict of interest in a written response to the Inspector General.
The Portsmouth plant in Ohio is a former site of enriched uranium production for use in nuclear weapons, military nuclear reactors and commercial nuclear reactors, according to the facility’s website. The Oak Ridge Reservation houses three DOE nuclear facilities. In 1989, the Environmental Protection Agency named Oak Ridge one of its “national priorities” for radioactive clean-up.
The current effort to decontaminate and decommission Portsmouth and Oak Ridge is estimated to cost $4.3 billion and take five years to complete, according to the Inspector General report.
Mia Steinle is an investigator with the Project On Government Oversight. Image from U.S. Dept. of Energy.Follow @miasteinle