Department of Energy: We’re Great at Fighting Contracting Fraud. Top Government Watchdog: Nope.

WASHINGTON – After the Department of Energy disagreed with findings of the government’s top watchdog about their ability to identify and prevent contracting fraud, U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, the top-ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, today wrote Energy Secretary Rick Perry with concerns about the department’s commitment to fraud prevention.

The Department of Energy helps maintain America’s nuclear arsenal and is the largest civilian contracting agency with 90 percent of its $27 billion budget spent on contract and major capital asset projects.   

“The Department of Energy is responsible for maintaining large parts of our nuclear arsenal and an inability or unwillingness to root out contracting fraud endangers not only taxpayer dollars but our national security,” said McCaskill, former Missouri State Auditor. “The most troubling part is that the agency seems unwilling to acknowledge this is a problem.”

Today the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report, requested by Senator McCaskill, outlining a series of concerns about Department of Energy (DOE)’s internal controls and oversight, audits, and inconsistent policies as they relate to detecting waste and fraud. Despite the concerns raised by GAO, the Department of Energy responded that its risk of fraud was ‘low’ and disagreed with some of GAO’s findings.

McCaskill’s letter seeks answers to a variety of questions raised by GAO’s report, including how the Department of Energy concluded that its risk of fraud is low, and why the department is unwilling to take a proactive leadership role in adopting best practices to protect taxpayer dollars from fraud.

“Oversight challenges with management of fraud risk and improper payments exist across the DOE complex,” McCaskill wrote to Energy Secretary Rick Perry. “It is apparent that the risk is actually unknown because DOE does not adequately assess or oversee it.”

McCaskill has a long history of targeting waste, fraud, and abuse at the Energy Department. Last month, she called on Perry to reinstate rules that target DOE contractors who retaliate against workers who expose nuclear safety violations and waste, fraud, or abuse. Following reports of retaliation and intimidation against whistleblowers by contractors at the department, McCaskill successfully led a bipartisan effort last year to expand whistleblower protections to all government contractors, subcontractors, and others who the federal government directly or indirectly hires. In 2014, McCaskill, hosted a roundtable discussion to hear from whistleblowers who were fired after raising safety concerns at the Hanford nuclear site and led a formal hearing on whistleblower retaliation. McCaskill also pressed the Department of Energy for information on why contractors’ legal fees were reimbursed, essentially encouraging protracted litigation against whistleblowers, and whether contractor nondisclosure agreements may have a chilling effect on whistleblowers’ willingness to come forward.

A link to the Government Accountability Office’s report is available online HERE.

McCaskill’s letter to Secretary Perry is available online HERE.