IG faults payments to ex-Rep. Wilson

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Former U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson collected nearly half a million dollars in questionable payments from four federally funded nuclear labs after she left office, the Energy Department's inspector general says in a new report.

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.”

The contractors that run the labs have paid the money back to the federal government but an investigation continues, the report said.

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."

The report called Wilson's agreements with the labs unusual and in some cases "highly irregular." And it said the agreements and the lab operators failed to include or enforce "even minimum" invoicing standards.

Wilson, a Republican who represented New Mexico's 1st Congressional District, collected much of the money in between two unsuccessful runs for the U.S. Senate. She was defeated last year by Democrat Martin Heinrich during a campaign that highlighted her connections to Los Alamos and Sandia. The labs conduct classified research on nuclear weapons.

Wilson, a former Air Force officer, has a doctorate in international relations and is a former staffer for the National Security Council. She campaigned as an expert on defense, arms control, and intelligence matters.

During the 2012 Senate campaign, the AP sought copies of Wilson's contracts with the labs after she disclosed income from Los Alamos, Sandia and Oak Ridge. And all three labs called the documents confidential.

Saying much of her work was classified, Wilson's campaign declined to release the contracts. But it said her work included helping Oak Ridge establish a senior advisory group on intelligence; providing advice to senior managers at Los Alamos on nuclear deterrence and threat reduction programs, and serving on the Intelligence Advisory Panel for Sandia National Labs.

"Her relationship with our national labs goes back over 20 years and she has worked on a wide range of projects with different groups of scientists and engineers over time," her campaign said in an email.

The National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees the national labs, requested the DOE review of whether the agreement between the contractor that runs Los Alamos and Wilson was properly administered.

In addition to problems with the contracts and documentation of services provided by Wilson, the report said an agency contract officer was "subjected to pressure'" when Los Alamos National Security, LLC, which runs Los Alamos, requested approval to enter an agreement with Wilson. The report said inspectors were unable to identify any evidence of that pressure.

It noted that the separate investigation continues. The report was issued by the civil division. The office also conducts criminal investigations.

The report is the latest in a string of reprimands from government oversight agencies for a lack of oversight of contracts and projects at the nation's nuclear facilities.

Congress has appointed a special committee to study a potential overhaul of the NNSA. Last month, the agency's acting director suddenly announced she is stepping down after less than six months in the top spot.

Wilson gave up her seat five years ago to run for the nomination to replace her mentor, longtime New Mexico Republican Sen. Pete Domenici. She lost in a tight primary, but ran again last year against Heinrich in a race to replace retiring Sen. Jeff Bingaman, a Democrat.

Wilson called herself a consultant and said she turned down a top spot at Sandia to make her second run for Senate.

Greg Mello of the Los Alamos Study Group also weighed in.

“First of all Ms. Wilson should recuse herself or be barred from her present role advising Congress regarding the future of the NNSA and its laboratories.  The problem is not just the evidence of improper payments by the NNSA laboratories to Ms. Wilson's company, but a larger pattern of financial dependence on these labs,” Mello said.

“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.”

Jeri Clausing and Matthew Daly of the Associated Press and John Severance contributed to this report.