January 12, 2017 by John Nicholson
The United States Department of Justice (U.S. DOJ) recently announced that Bechtel National Inc., Bechtel Corp., URS Corp. (predecessor in interest to AECOM Global II LLC) and URS Energy and Construction Inc. (now known as AECOM Energy and Construction Inc.) agree to pay $125 million to resolve allegations under the U.S. False Claims Act. The U.S. DOJ alleged that the companies had made false statements and claims to the U.S. Department of Energy (U.S. DOE) by charging the U.S. DOE for deficient nuclear quality materials, services, and testing that was provided as the Waste Treatment Plant at the US. DOE’s Hanford Site near Richland, Washington.
The United States alleged that the defendants violated the False Claims Act by charging the government the cost of complying with these standards when they failed to do so. 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 settlement also resolves allegations that Bechtel National Inc. and Bechtel Corp. improperly used federal contract funds to pay for a comprehensive, multi-year lobbying campaign of Congress and other federal officials for continued funding of the Hanford Waste Treatment Plant. In its press release, the U.S. DOJ stated that the claims asserted against defendants are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.
Bechtel National Inc. and Bechtel Corp. are Nevada corporations. URS Corp. is headquartered in California and URS Energy and Construction Inc. is headquartered in Colorado.
The Hanford facility made more than 20 million pieces of uranium metal fuel for nine nuclear reactors along the Columbia River. Five huge plants in the center of the Hanford Site processed 110,000 tons of fuel from the reactors, discharging an estimated 450 billion gallons of liquids to soil disposal sites and 53 million gallons of radioactive waste to 177 large underground tanks.
Plutonium production ended in the late 1980s. Hanford cleanup began in 1989, when a landmark agreement was reached between U.S. DOE, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Government of Washington State. Known as the Tri-Party Agreement, the accord established hundreds of milestones for bringing the Hanford site into compliance with federal and state environmental regulations.
The U.S. DOE has paid billions of dollars since 2002 to the defendants to design and build the Waste Treatment Plant (WTP). The WTP will be used to treat dangerous radioactive wastes that are currently stored at the Hanford Site.