JUNE 26, 2014 

Contact: Sarah Feldman (print) or Anamarie Rebori (broadcast) – 202-228-6263  

McCaskill to Energy Department: Are Taxpayer Dollars Subsidizing Contractor Legal Fight Against Whistleblowers?

Senator, as part of continuing investigation of Hanford nuclear site, demands answers on DOE’s litigation reimbursements for contractors against whistleblowers raising safety concerns

WASHINGTON – Continuing her work to protect whistleblowers and strengthen accountability across federal agencies, U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill this week pressed the Department of Energy (DOE) for information on why legal subsidies were provided to contractors, essentially encouraging protracted litigation against whistleblowers, and whether contractor nondisclosure agreements may have a chilling effect on whistleblowers’ willingness to come forward. 

In March, McCaskill, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Financial & Contracting Oversight, 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 requested follow-up hearing questions for the record be provided to the Subcommittee by April 30, and has yet to receive them. 

“At the hearing, I expressed my concerns that the Department of Energy may be providing an incentive to contractors to engage in protracted litigation with whistleblowers by reimbursing the contractors’ legal expenses,” McCaskill wrote. “I have since learned that Bechtel and URS have been reimbursed by $500,000 and $3 million, respectively, by DOE for the costs of their litigation against two Hanford whistleblowers. As I asked the Department in my questions for the record, I would like to understand the criteria used by the contracting officer to determine that this expenditure was allowable and reasonable.” 

McCaskill continued: “In response to questions asked for the hearing record, URS answered that it intended to seek reimbursement for more than $650,000 in such expenses to be paid by DOE, including lawyers who would effectively be billing the government almost $1,300 per hour.  After the Subcommittee notified URS that it would publish that response in this letter, URS updated its response to indicate it had not made a determination whether it would seek reimbursement or not.  Bechtel has declined to seek reimbursement for such expenses… I also questioned whether the contractors’ Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) with their employees, a condition of employment, may have a chilling effect on reporting safety and environmental concerns.  As you know, reporting those concerns, including to Congress, is protected by law. I have since learned that the NDAs used by URS and Bechtel provide no exception for protected disclosures.”

Read the letter to the Department of Energy HERE

Click HERE to read highlights of McCaskill’s fight for stronger accountability in Washington.