Weapons Complex Monitor Vol. 35 No. 04
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Weapons Complex Monitor
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January 26, 2024

Justice accuses Hanford landlord of overbilling while letting fire protection tasks slide

By Wayne Barber

The federal prosecutor for Eastern Washington state filed a complaint in federal district court accusing the Department of Energy’s landlord contractor for the Hanford Site of fraudulently padding labor charges for fire safety by millions of dollars.

The case against Hanford Mission Integration Solutions (HMIS), a joint venture of Leidos, Centerra and Parsons, was announced in a Wednesday press release  by Vanessa Waldref, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington.

The case followed False Claims Act allegations by whistleblower Bradley Keever, a sprinkler fitter in the fire protection group at HMIS. 

“HMIS not only fraudulently charged DOE for tens of thousands of hours … but just as critically did not perform vital fire protection work” to protect thousands of Hanford workers and the public, according to the complaint

HMIS handles upkeep of the fire protection systems at 427 structures at Hanford along with 13,800 fire protection devices and 8,000 fire extinguishers that should be inspected annually, according to the filing. This equipment is prone to collect dust, rust or sludge that can render the gear inoperable if not checked yearly, the government says. 

“HMIS is cooperating with the Department of Justice, the Office of Inspector General and the Department of Energy on this matter,” an HMIS spokesperson said in a reply email to Exchange Monitor. “We are committed to resolution and identifying opportunities for continuous enhancements to increase our effectiveness as a DOE contractor. HMIS is committed to maintaining the highest standards of ethics and integrity in everything we do.”

HMIS in January 2021 took over the Hanford Mission Essential Services Contract from another Leidos-led contractor team. Under the deal, the company is basically the city manager for the former plutonium production complex. The 580-square-mile property, an area about the size of Houston, is now DOE’s largest nuclear-weapons cleanup project.

Part of the landlord contractor’s duties requires it to provide fire protection and fire systems management services for the site, according to the press release. But between January 2021 and October 2023, HMIS “engaged in a systemic and fraudulent overcharging” of DOE for fire protection work at Hanford, according to the press release.

There was “extensive and unreasonable idle time” most days, according to the release. This included taking naps, watching television and doing non-work-related activities. 

In 2022 one pipefitter put down 10 hours for training or preventative maintenance even though the worker passed part of the time by watching the 1990s movie comedy “There’s something about Mary,” according to the Department of Justice’s Wednesday filing. 

The U.S. attorney’s office said HMIS bosses know about the problem and did nothing to stop it. Supervisors sometimes told employees to post phony time codes when little or no work was being done. HMIS bosses still allotted plenty of overtime work on Fridays and weekends, even though workers did not do much during 10-hour Monday-through-Thursday shifts, the U.S. attorney said.

Keever’s complaint was filed under seal with the federal district court in December 2021, the advocacy group Hanford Challenge, said in a press release. Hanford Challenge noted the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board recently highlighted fire inspection issues at the site and HMIS only won 35% of its subjective fee in its last DOE fee scorecard. 

“The failure to perform maintenance on fire systems at Hanford is unacceptable and terrifying,” said Hanford Challenge Executive Director Nikolas Peterson.

In addition to a law firm, Keever also worked with Hanford Challenge on the initial complaint, Peterson said. 

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