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Controversy seems to follow Heather Wilson wherever she goes.
Only a couple of months ago, the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology announced that the former New Mexico congresswoman had been selected as its new president.
Then, just a couple of weeks ago, the Rapid City Journal in South Dakota filed this report: “Former U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson, set to begin work (at the school) on Monday, received nearly $450,000 in questionable payments from four federally funded nuclear labs after she left office, the Energy Department’s inspector general said in a new report.” The newspaper further reported that “South Dakota School of Mines and Technology officials declined Tuesday (June 11) to comment on the controversy swirling.”
That same day, however, the Albuquerque Journal found an administrator with the school’s board of regents who tried to calm matters by saying, “Unless some other revelation takes place, I think we’re OK.”
Turns out the private firms responsible for managing the four United States labs had contracted with Wilson and paid her almost a half-million dollars without receiving documentation from the ex-congresswoman attesting that she had indeed earned those big bucks.
Wilson, not surprisingly, said her “work was done in full compliance with the contracts we signed and under the direct supervision of lab sponsors.”
The Energy Department’s inspector general report, on the other hand, called those agreements “highly irregular” and noted that they failed to meet “even minimum” federal billing standards.
In other words, the labs (including Sandia and Los Alamos) got little by way of itemized accounting validating the former congresswoman’s “work.”
Which probably explains why the labs’ managers decided to reimburse the federal government for the money they had shelled out to the erstwhile congresswoman.
Whether those managers will ask Wilson to return the $450,000 they handed over to her is anybody’s guess. Certainly they should, but don’t hold your breath.
In contracting with Wilson the labs were simply doing what hundreds of outfits that depend on government funding do when they hire or enter into lucrative deals with retired, or defeated members of Congress after they leave office.
The goal is to purchase whatever influence a former congressperson might have developed on Capitol Hill and make it serve their ends. It’s the hoary if cynical business of spending taxpayer money to get more (often lots more) of the same.
After running unsuccessfully for the 2008 Republican U.S. Senate nomination for the seat being vacated by Pete Domenici, Wilson apparently decided to cash in by establishing her own “consulting” business and soon boasted such clients as LANL and Sandia.
During her tenure on Capitol Hill, Wilson served on the House Intelligence and Armed Services committees. Valuable connections accrue from such service, the kind of connections that spark the interests of defense and others contractors when an ex-congressperson enters private life.
The investigation into Wilson’s “consulting” work with the labs is reportedly ongoing and who knows whether probes will unearth anything even more serious than thus far has been uncovered.