Allegations of impropriety involving the use of stimulus funds for job creation at Savannah River Site were largely unfounded, but they did reveal the need for better communication and cooperation, according to the U.S. Energy Department's Office of Inspector General.
An investigation was opened in September after complaints were made anonymously against top officials with the department's Office of Environmental Management. The complaints alleged that senior officials inappropriately influenced hiring activities and job fairs related to the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.
SRS received $1.6 billion in such funds -- more than any federal nuclear facility except Hanford, Wash. -- and is using the windfall to create 3,000 jobs and accelerate a series of projects that include final decommissioning of reactors that once produced materials for the nation's nuclear arsenal.
One complaint -- that $9 million in stimulus funds was steered to historically black colleges and universities "in return for something of value on behalf of a member of Congress" -- was unfounded, the report said.
Other complaints involved allegations that federal officials were asked to arrange illegal meetings with union representatives and that SRS and its contractors were ordered to release sensitive information from subcontractor personnel files.
Because witnesses offered conflicting views on those charges, those matters will be referred to DOE's Office of General Counsel for further resolution.
The inspectors also looked into claims that job fairs were ordered held in counties represented by a certain member of Congress and that illegal influence was exerted in an effort to hire three specific individuals.
A review of those allegations yielded conflicting testimony with no conclusive evidence to prove -- or refute -- the claims.
"In short, regarding many of the events and activities which were key to the allegations, witnesses' testimony was conflicting and irreconcilable," the report said. "Perceptions, interpretations and recollections of these events as well as views on the intent of the individuals involved varied dramatically."
The inspectors did find a need for better communication at SRS and with other agencies.
"We encountered witnesses who testified that there was confusion as to lines of authority, responsibility and accountability; poor internal communications; a lack of coordination; failure to share essential information among key officials; and insufficient follow-up on critically important issues and decisions. These factors appeared to have contributed to an unusual level of distrust and acrimony."
In all, the team of inspectors conducted an extensive inquiry spanning several months, the report said.
"We interviewed over 80 current and former department federal and contractor employees in South Carolina and Washington, D.C. We analyzed large volumes of documents, including over 150,000 e-mails, and we identified and reviewed applicable Federal and Department regulations."
The inspector general's recommendations include creating a better program for conflict resolution, procedures to help managers and employees understand the Recovery Act goals and rules; and reviews to ensure that federal employees understand the lines of authority for working with contractors and union officials.
Kristina Johnson, the undersecretary for energy for SRS, said in an e-mailed statement that DOE will implement those recommendations.
"I also strongly agree with the Inspector General that tensions have risen to an unacceptable and highly personal level and must be addressed," she said.
Reach Rob Pavey at (706) 868-1222, ext. 119, or email@example.com.
READ THE REPORT
You can find the complete report at www.ig.energy.gov/documents/S09IS024.pdf
1. Conduct an independent evaluation of the human relations climate at both Environmental Management's Headquarters and Savannah River offices and develop an action plan to address identified issues.
2. Initiate an aggressive program to facilitate conflict resolution and promote collaboration and communication between Environmental Management Headquarters officials and Savannah River Site representatives.
3. Implement procedures to ensure a common understanding among all Environmental Management Headquarters and Savannah River employees as to the mission, goals and objectives of the Recovery Act at the Department's Savannah River Site.
4. Ensure Federal personnel understand the roles, responsibilities and lines of authority for interacting with contractor, subcontractor and contractor employee union officials.
5. Enhance protocols for resolving conflicting legal guidance between General Counsel officials at Headquarters and Savannah River; and determine the propriety of Federal officials accessing subcontractor personnel files.
Source: DOE Office of Inspector General