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News / Northwest

Whistleblower: Department of Energy contractor fraudulently billed millions for fire protection at Hanford

By Emma Epperly, The Spokesman-Review
Published: January 26, 2024, 8:05am

SPOKANE — A company contracted to provide fire protection at the Hanford Nuclear Site submitted millions of dollars in fraudulent and inflated invoices to the federal government since 2021, according to a False Claims Act complaint filed Wednesday by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The complaint was originally brought by whistleblower Bradley Keever, a sprinkler fitter in the fire protection group at Hanford Mission Integration Solutions, LLC, which was the contractor that provided the fire protection services.

Federal investigators took up the allegations, resulting in the filing Wednesday of the False Claims Act complaint.

Hanford is a 580-square-mile facility near the Tri-Cities established in 1943 as part of the Manhattan Project. The testing done at the facility resulted in a hazardous materials pollution problem that government officials have not solved for decades.

Hanford Mission Integration Solutions is owned by three large government contracting companies: Leidos Integrated Technology in Reston, Virginia; Centerra Group, LLC in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida; and Parsons Government Services in Centreville, Virginia.

The company has held the multibillion-dollar Hanford Mission Essential Services contract since January 2021. Part of the contract is to provide fire protection and fire systems management services for Hanford, which protects the public from both fire and potential radiological hazards.

The complaint alleges that between January 2021 and October 2023, the company systemically overcharged the Department of Energy for that work.

Employees regularly had extensive downtime because the company didn’t schedule work for them to perform, the complaint says. During that downtime, employees took naps, watched movies and TV and did other personal tasks, the complaint alleges.

One example in the complaint is that an employee was told by his supervisor to code 10 hours of training time, when in reality he had no work assignments and spent the day watching the film “There’s Something About Mary.”

The company would also schedule employees for substantial overtime shifts on Fridays and weekends when they had no work to perform, the complaint alleges.

Despite the significant charges, actual upkeep on the fire protection system at Hanford was not completed, according to the complaint.

“Fire safety at Hanford is critical to the health of the public, workers, and the environment,” Vanessa Waldref, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, said in a news release. “It is inexcusable to think that a well-paid contractor entrusted with this critical task to protect our community would fraudulently bill DOE for idle time spent watching movies and literally sleeping on the job, all while putting the public at risk when critical work went uncompleted.”

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.