Four contractors managing the Energy Department’s national laboratories charged the agency $450,000 for consulting fees paid to a former Republican congresswoman from New Mexico, but the contractors could not document her work, according to a report by the department’s inspector general.
The payments to Heather A. Wilson by Lockheed Martin, Bechtel and others were made to the firm Heather Wilson & Co. from early 2009 through early 2011, after Wilson had left Congress but before her unsuccessful bid for the Senate in 2012.
Inspector General Gregory H. Friedman said that the justification for the billing did “not meet even minimum standards” for federal payments and that there was an “absence of detailed evidence of the actual services provided” by Wilson. The report said that the contractor for Sandia National Laboratories, a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin, “developed an after-the-fact schedule of activities.”
The four contractors have reimbursed the Energy Department for the payments. Wilson said in an interview Monday that the Energy Department had not contacted her about the matter.
On Tuesday, Wilson responded to the inspector general’s report, saying in a statement, “The work was done in full compliance with the contracts we signed and under the direct supervision of lab sponsors.”
In February, Wilson, who also ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in 2008, was named by House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) to an advisory panel on the National Nuclear Security Administration, which will reassess how the national laboratories are run. Critics decried her appointment as a conflict of interest because of her contract work for the laboratories.
During her Senate race last year, Wilson portrayed herself as a strong advocate for Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia, both headquartered in New Mexico. Former GOP senator Pete V. Domenici, whose seat Wilson campaigned to fill in 2008, filmed a campaign ad for her last year, praising her ability to protect New Mexico’s national laboratories.
Wilson, a graduate of the Air Force Academy and a former Rhodes scholar, was named president of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in late April. She is expected to begin work there next week.
The description of her experience on the school’s Web site notes: “As president of Heather Wilson & Company LLC of Albuquerque, N.M., Wilson has worked as a senior adviser to top-tier national laboratories such as Sandia, Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, the Nevada Test Site, Battelle Memorial Institute, and others.”
The Energy Department’s inspector general report says Wilson received 23 payments totaling $226,378 from Sandia National Laboratories, which is operated and managed by Sandia Corp., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin. The report says she also received 19 payments totaling $195,718 for work related to Los Alamos, which is managed by Los Alamos National Security LLC, a venture run by the University of California, Bechtel, Babcock & Wilcox and URS Corp.
She also was paid about $30,000 from contractors at Nevada and Oak Ridge national laboratories.
The laboratories have been seeking more funding and latitude. “In times of scarce resources, those who run the Laboratory are, well, resourceful,” says the Los Alamos Web site.
The inspector general’s report said the contractors wanted Wilson’s help in developing new business with the Defense Department and intelligence community, but noted that “business development” was “specifically prohibited” under the terms of the consulting agreement.
The advisory panel for which Boehner picked Wilson was created by the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2013 and signed into law in December. Its purpose is “to examine options and make recommendations for revising the governance structure, mission, and management of the nuclear security enterprise.”
The advisory panel’s five members are appointed by congressional leaders. The panel is supposed to draft a final report by Feb. 1.
Wilson’s appointment to the panel drew criticism from antinuclear bloggers in New Mexico, who cited conflict-of-interest language in a 2008 Government Accountability Office report on the Federal Advisory Committee Act: “Because advisory committees provide input to federal decision makers on significant national issues, it is essential that their membership be, and be perceived as being, free from conflicts of interest and balanced as a whole.”