An investigation by Department of Energy Inspector General Gregory Friedman has revealed that a consulting firm owned by former Republican Rep. Heather Wilson, who left Congress in 2009, was paid for work for which there was little evidence it had been done, all under what is described as a vague contract.
The inspector was called upon by the National Nuclear Security Administration to examine whether Heather Wilson and Company, LLC provided consulting services to four contractor-managed laboratories: Los Alamos National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and the Nevada National Security Site,
Among the reasons for the audit were questions about what, if any, work she did in exchange for $10,000 monthly payments, and whether a contracting officer for NNSA was pressured when Los Alamos sought to work with HWC. Friedman could not find any evidence of the latter concern.
But in the course of his investigation, Friedman found that terms that required Wilson to provide details about the scope and nature of her work were either not outlined in the consulting agreements with the laboratories, or were not enforced. The inspector also learned that despite a prohibition of such activity, some of the work performed by Wilson included “business development” – in other words, lobbying the government to fund and deliver more work for the laboratories.
“A senior Los Alamos official acknowledged that Los Alamos desired to use (Wilson)’s services, in part, to increase work-for-others activities,” Friedman reported. “Specifically, he told us that: (i) Los Alamos had made a strategic decision to increase the market share of work involving the Department of Defense and the Intelligence Community, and (ii) the Los Alamos Director believed the expertise of (Wilson) could help with that initiative.”
Wilson, the first woman military vet elected to a full Congressional term, served New Mexico’s 1st District for almost 11 years. She is a twice-failed candidate for U.S. Senate, but launched her consulting firm almost immediately upon departure from the House, according to the Albuquerque Journal. She served on committees that oversaw intelligence, the armed services, energy and commerce, so she undoubtedly offered an attractive opportunity to access key federal government agencies for the laboratories.
Not only was Wilson enlisted to help get the laboratories more work, but according to the Inspector General, her firm was granted a no-bid contract to do so. Besides Los Alamos’s desires to access the former congresswoman’s connections, Sandia (a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin) also cited Wilson’s ability to help generate new business in the Intelligence and Cyber areas as reason to pursue a sole source contract with her. Friedman reported that a manager in the NNSA office that oversees Sandia denied the request because of the planned lobbying activity, but the sole source language was changed to eliminate that concern.
But whatever work Wilson actually did was unclear, and her invoices for services that she allegedly provided were devoid of details, according to the inspector’s report.
“Our testing revealed that the four facility contractors paid approximately $450,000 to (Wilson) even though they did not receive evidence that work performed under the agreements had been completed,” Friedman wrote.
The inspector’s report is rife with questions and doubts. A statement she provided to the Albuquerque Journal didn’t clear up matters.
“The report confirms that the labs were satisfied with my work,” Wilson said. “The work was done in full compliance with the contracts we signed and under the direct supervision of lab sponsors.”
As Friedman spelled out in his report, federal regulations require that contractors can only be paid when evidence of the nature and scope of the services are provided. Billings are to detail the amount of hours spent on contracted activities, and copies of consultants’ work products, reports, meeting minutes, and memoranda are required as supportive documentation. But Friedman found contracting officials for the four laboratories either did not include the requirements in the contracts with Wilson, did not conduct due diligence to assure the necessary documentation was intact as conditions for her payments, or both.
In the case of Sandia, Wilson was supposed to advise and consult on “corporate strategic objectives, the business environment within which Sandia programs operate, and operational constraints,” among other things, under a $10,000-per-month, 50-hours minimum agreement. The inspector determined that Wilson was paid $226,378 for her services “without the evidence of deliverables and detailed invoices to support the allowability of these payments.” Friedman said a typical invoice (there were 23 of them) would only include language such as “Consulting services for 11/1/10 – 11/30/10 at a cost of $10,000….” Officials at Sandia that Friedman and his inspectors spoke to could not provide evidence of deliverables or documentation that Wilson did any work.
Similarly at Los Alamos – run by a collaboration of interests including the University of California and Bechtel – Friedman determined that Wilson was paid $195,718 in 19 payments for invoices lacking evidence of deliverables or documentation of services performed.
“When we asked for the specific monthly tasks from August 2009 to February 2011,” Friedman wrote, “Los Alamos was not able to provide any documentation showing what tasks and activities (Wilson) was directed or scheduled to perform on a monthly basis.”
In an effort to find justification for the money Los Alamos paid Wilson, officials undertook a search of records and emails that they said “…demonstrate in part the services provided,” but Friedman found the materials insufficient.
The inspector uncovered similar weaknesses in Wilson’s contracts with Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Nevada National Security Site, for which she was paid $30,000.
With regard to the work Wilson did do, Friedman noted that Sandia and Los Alamos were warned by federal officials that she “shall not engage in any activity specifically related to obtaining, retaining, or facilitating business or business opportunities for the respective National Laboratories.” But the inspector said evidence suggests those activities did take place, with Wilson arranging meetings or visits with senior federal officials “who had the ability to impact both funding and future work at the Laboratory in the intelligence arena.”
The National Nuclear Security Administration, under DOE, recovered $442,877 for taxpayers from what it said was $464,203 that was paid to Wilson, and the Inspector General said the additional amounts paid are under review. But she told the Washington Post the labs had not asked her to return the money. The newspaper reported that House Speaker John Boehner in February appointed her as an advisor to the National Nuclear Security Administration, which is to reassess how the national laboratories are run, a decision that was criticized.
And the former congresswoman is now president of the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, which received $14.1 million in research and development funding during the past fiscal year from several federal government agencies, and lists eight laboratories and other research areas in which it works.
Paul Chesser is an associate fellow for the National Legal and Policy Center and publishes CarolinaPlottHound.com, an aggregator of North Carolina news.