Savannah River Nuclear Solutions paid out $7.7 million in unnecessary separation payments to stimulus-funded workers at Savannah River Site, according to a new audit report by the U.S. Energy Department’s Inspector General.
The study examined American Recovery & Reinvestment Act spending at the two Energy Department facilities that received the largest share of stimulus dollars for environmental management programs. SRS, which received $1.615 billion, was second only to the Hanford Plant in Richland, Wash., which received $1.633 billion.
Though management contractors at both sites emphasized to workers they were being hired for temporary projects, “the transition approach adopted at Savannah River has resulted in unnecessary payments of nearly $7.7 million to separated contractor employees,” auditors concluded.
Rather than provide workers with a required 60-day notice of separation – as contractors at Hanford properly did – SRNS opted instead to pay 526 workers an additional 60 days pay above and beyond the usual severance compensation, the report said. “This decision resulted in payments for which the Department received no direct benefit.”
The sum computes to a per-employee average of $14,638.
“We are concerned that it may not have been reasonable or equitable to provide terminated employees in Savannah River with additional payments beyond the suite of benefits provided to similarly situated employees in Hanford,” auditors wrote, noting also that the Energy Department is partly responsible for the problem. The department’s headquarters failed to provide formal guidance on the separation payment issue, the report said. “Instead, site contractors were allowed to decide whether to provide notice or pay in lieu of notice.”
The inspector general recommended further review of separation payment programs and development of formal guidance from headquarters in future situations.
Jim Giusti, an Energy Department spokesman at SRS, said Savannah River Nuclear Solutions will not be asked to repay the funds.
“DOE headquarters approved the plan, so they basically did what we told them to do,” he said. “ The inspector general has come back and said there is a better way of doing this.” SRS management agrees with the report and its findings, Giusti added. “But as far as a penalty or anything, the answer is no.”