Hanford Contractors Settle $58 Million Claim Over Fraudulent Labor Billing Practices

File photo of Hanford's waste treatment plant in March, 2013. A new letter by the U.S. Department of Energy questions the proper documentation for steel used in the structures.
File photo of Hanford's waste treatment or "vitrification" plant in March 2013. A 2016 letter by the U.S. Department of Energy questioned the proper documentation for steel used in the structures. CREDIT: Anna King/N3

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BY SCOTT LEADINGHAM & ANNA KING

Two contractors at the Hanford Site have settled with the federal government over allegations they fraudulently billed for labor costs.

Under the settlement, Bechtel Corp. and Aecom will pay nearly $58 million over allegations from current or former Hanford employees. The workers said they were retaliated against for blowing the whistle over how labor hours were billed.

The two contractors are building the massive vitrification plant at Hanford that will help dispose of radioactive waste and cost upward of $17 billion.

The companies also agree to cooperate with the Justice Department for an investigation into employees involved in the billing practices that defrauded the Department of Energy and, ultimately, U.S. taxpayers.

This marks the second time in four years that the two contractors have paid tens of millions of dollars to settle claims over their work at Hanford. In 2016, they settled a case with the Justice Department for $125 million over claims of using substandard building materials and poor quality in construction of the same vitrification plant.

In an emailed statement Tuesday night, a Bechtel Corp. executive, Barbara Rusinko, president of the company’s nuclear, security and environmental business unit, wrote:

“As a company, we felt it was in the best interest of the project and our customer to resolve this matter so that we can avoid the distractions and expenses of a protracted legal proceeding, move beyond these issues, and fully focus on completing our work at such a critical time for WTP. Thanks to the commitment and dedication of the project’s employees, the contractors have made significant progress toward remediation of one of our country’s oldest and most complex environmental waste problems.”

The vitrification plant, formally known as the waste treatment and immobilization plant, has been under construction since 2002. It is scheduled to go “hot” and be active by late 2023.

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