A key contractor involved in the troubled cleanup at the former Hanford, Wash., nuclear weapons complex admitted this week that it had engaged in criminal time card fraud and agreed to pay $18.5 million to settle the allegations.
The project, which involves construction of a $13.4-billion treatment plant to process highly radioactive bomb waste, is years behind schedule, has exceeded its original cost estimate and is paralyzed by technical issues that have halted the work.
The problems, however, have not dimmed political support for the project, given the threat that about 56 million gallons of radioactive sludge at the site could eventually leak and reach the nearby Columbia River.
“Even with all the money rupturing out of the Treasury on this project, Congress doesn’t care,” said Tom Carpenter, executive director of the Hanford Challenge, a watchdog group that has helped expose many of the technical and management problems at the project.
The time card fraud was carried out by the Colorado-based environmental firm CH2M Hill, which billed the government for employee overtime that was not performed, a scheme that involved the company’s upper management, direct supervisors and hourly workers, the Justice Department said Thursday.
The company acknowledged that it had recruited workers for overtime by offering eight-hour blocks of extra pay, but then allowed employees to leave the job site early.