Whistleblowers' Claims of Fraud at Nuclear Waste Facility Leads to $125 Million Settlement

According to a Department of Justice Press Release issued November 23, 2016, a group of affiliated contractors have agreed to pay the United States $125 million to settle claims that the contractors charged the government for non-conforming work at a nuclear waste treatment plant at the Department of Energy’s Hanford Site near Richland, Washington.  The case, which was originally brought by three whistleblowers who worked on the project, alleged that Bechtel National Inc., Bechtel Corp., URS Corp.  and URS Energy and Construction Inc. received billions of dollars to treat and store dangerous radioactive chemicals but failed to comply with the quality standards of the contract.

In particular, the United States alleged that the defendants improperly billed the government for materials and services from vendors that did not meet quality control requirements, for piping and waste vessels that did not meet quality standards and for testing from vendors who did not have compliant quality programs.  The United States also alleged that Bechtel National Inc. and Bechtel Corp. improperly claimed and received government funding for lobbying activities in violation of the Byrd Amendment, and applicable contractual and regulatory requirements, all of which prohibit the use of federal funds for lobbying activities.

The allegations resolved by this settlement were initially brought in a lawsuit filed under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act by Gary Brunson, Donna Busche, and Walter Tamosaitis, who worked on the WTP project.  The False Claims Act permits private parties with knowledge of fraud against the government to sue on behalf of the United States and to receive a share of any recovery.  In addition, the Act permits whistleblowers to recovery their attorney’s fees and costs incurred in pursuing the case. The whistleblowers’ reward has not yet been determined in this case.

Frohsin Barger & Walthall would like to congratulate and thank the whistleblowers in this case, The Lambert Firm, the private law firm representing the whistleblowers, the Department of Justice Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Washington, the DOE Office of the Inspector General and the FBI for their efforts in successfully returning taxpayer funds to the United States.