RICHLAND — A Hanford contractor has agreed to pay $1.1 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the Justice Department claiming the company used federal money to lobby for new government customers for a first responder training facility.
Fluor Corp. denied it did anything wrong and said it decided to settle to avoid the distraction and cost of litigation.
“No false claims were submitted to the government and no lobbying or other laws were violated,” Fluor said in a statement.
As part of the settlement, $200,000 will go to Loydene Rambo, a former contracting official for the program known as HAMMER who filed a whistleblower lawsuit against Fluor in 2011.
She filed the case under the False Claims Act, which allows private parties to sue on behalf of the United States and share in any recovery. The federal government took over the case last year.
The 80-acre Hazardous Materials Management and Emergency Response facility opened in 1997 at a cost of $30 million. Its main purpose is to provide training for workers involved in radiation cleanup work at the Hanford nuclear reservation.
Buildings and props also are used to train first responders from fire departments and other agencies in hazardous materials work, rescues and environmental protection.
Fluor Hanford operated the training facility for the Energy Department from 1996 to 2009. Court documents say consultants were paid $669,000 from 2005 to 2008 to lobby other government agencies to use the facility.
The Justice Department says the money was intended only for training, not lobbying.
Rambo said in her claim that initial efforts by the program to grow by marketing the training to regional first responders such as the Seattle Fire Department were not as financially successful as planned.
In 2005, the program hired Congressional Strategies and Secure Horizons Consulting to market its training using Department of Energy money, court documents said. Members of Congress and federal agencies were lobbied to include additional money for the training program in congressional appropriations to the agencies.
Congressional Strategies was paid $398,164, and Secure Horizons was paid $278,148, according to court documents.
Two program officials with salaries paid with federal money also lobbied for appropriations that would benefit the training center, Rambo’s lawsuit alleged.
To receive its contract, Fluor was required to certify it would not use federal money for lobbying, according to court documents.
Rambo said she repeatedly raised concerns about what she saw as lobbying but was “rebuffed, threatened and abused,” according to court documents. She eventually resigned.
Fluor said in its statement that Fluor Hanford’s contract with DOE obligated it to encourage other government agencies to use the training program to increase economies of scale in operation and maintenance.
The goal was to reduce costs to taxpayers, and there was nothing improper about the marketing efforts, Fluor said.
“Fluor was prepared to prove that the use of consultants to contact other government agencies to market the HAMMER facility was fully known to and overseen by ranking Department of Energy officials, who themselves were involved in meetings and communications with the consultants and other government agencies,” Fluor said.