Critics blast Wilson's contract with labs

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Reaction has been swift regarding an Inspector General’s report which pointed out that former Rep. Heather Wilson failed to provide documentation in the consulting work she provided for the nation’s laboratories including Los Alamos and Sandia.

The four management contractors at Los Alamos, Sandia, Nevada Test Site and Oak Ridge were required to repay the government $442,000 for their irregular payments to Wilson.

Jay Coghlan, Director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, commented, “The question now becomes whether Wilson should personally be paying the government back. In any event, these new findings on the depth of her conflict-of-interest should bury her political future in New Mexico once and for all. Further, she should resign from the NNSA Council on the future of the nuclear weapons labs, or be replaced by congressional leadership if she doesn’t go voluntarily.”

Los Alamos Study Group’s Greg Mello added, “The problems are not limited to Ms. Wilson.  There are pervasive problems with improper contracting at NNSA.  Recent examples include irregularities noted by GAO in choosing a contractor for a $23 billion contract to manage two nuclear weapons production sites, and actions of the NNSA Administrator to extend the contract period for Los Alamos and Livermore despite the recommendations of the contracting officers not to do so. 

“At NNSA, billions of dollars in contract extensions can be awarded by the stroke of an administrator's pen. In the final analysis it is the NNSA system of privatized, cost-plus contracting for nuclear weapons design and production in government-owned facilities that is the problem.  Congress must finally connect the dots and admit the present system is broken.  The abuses at NNSA are much greater, per budget dollar, than those at DOD.  The labs' improper payments to Heather Wilson are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.”

Wilson, meanwhile, is about to start a new job as president of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.

There does not seem to be any backlash from leaders at the college in South Dakota.

"I think as I understand a bit of this, because I have been in touch with her, I think the report cited the agencies not adequately documenting work. My best information indicates that Heather Wilson performs what is expected of her," said Jack Warner, the executive director and chief executive officer of the South Dakota Board of Regents.

Warner said Wilson contacted him to let him know the report might be released soon.

The Board of Regents unanimously approved the hiring of Wilson, a former U.S. representative, in April, following the death of Robert Wharton. Her contract is for one year and her salary is $321,360.

While Wilson officially begins as president of the 2,400-student school next week, Warner said she is already focusing on the big issues at the school, including fall enrollment, housing and research initiatives.

The South Dakota School of Mines & Technology has close ties to the Sanford Underground Research Lab in Lead, a facility 4,850 feet underground supported in part by the Department of Energy.

Wilson's previous work with national labs was a key component to her hiring, Warner said.

"The connection between the school and that facility is very important to us," he said, adding that he does not anticipate the report having any effect on the relationship between the school, the lab and the Department of Energy.

The IG’s report contends that Wilson failed to provide documentation for the work she did to earn $20,000 a month from the Los Alamos and Sandia national labs in New Mexico from January 2009 to March 2011, the report said. Officials at the Nevada Test Site and Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee acknowledged there “were no deliverables” associated with $30,000 the two labs paid Wilson. Sandia had Wilson lobby for more defense dollars, an apparent violation of her contract, the report said.

In total, nearly $450,000 in questionable payments were identified, the bulk from Los Alamos and Sandia.

In a statement, LANL defended Wilson and her work.

“LANS, LLC has reimbursed the government approximately $195,000 in potentially unallowable costs related to the consulting arrangement with Heather Wilson,” the statement said.

“We believe it was reasonable and appropriate to seek the services of Ms. Wilson. She is uniquely qualified to advise the lab on a variety of issues related to our national security missions. The Task Order contained a detailed Statement of Work and restrictions against political activities. The Task Order was terminated before Ms. Wilson became a candidate for public office.

“Nevertheless, we acknowledge we did not document her services consistent with our own expectations for subcontract management. We are taking internal steps to avoid similar concerns with future consulting agreements and take very seriously our obligations to be good stewards of taxpayer funds.”

In a statement emailed Tuesday to The Associated Press, Wilson said the report “confirms that the labs were satisfied with my work. The work was done in full compliance with the contracts we signed and under the direct supervision of lab sponsors.”