But search engines are double edged swords. For example doing a Google search for Battelle fraud (Battelle is the contractor that manages Pacific Northwest National Laboratory–PNNL) yielded these pages (E835 and E836) in the Congressional Record:
- Dr. Laul is a nuclear chemist and a nuclear engineer, with a Ph.D. from Purdue University. He spent 15 years at Hanford working on nuclear waste and environmental cleanup problems, analyzing whether that site was suitable for permanent storage of high-level nuclear waste.
- Dr. Laul is also a whistleblower, and a friend of the taxpayers, who put his career on the line when he blew the whistle on fraud and mismanagement by Batelle, Inc., a DOE contractor. Five days after disclosing that Batelle inappropriately and illegally used equipment paid for by the Government, Batelle fired Dr. Laul, saying he had improperly disposed of a hazardous waste–a violation DOE later said Batelle used as an excuse to lay him off and silence him.
- After losing his job, Dr. Laul brought a False Claims Act suit against Batelle and won, resulting in Batelle reimbursing DOE $330,000. Today I submit for the Record an article describing the case and reporting on Dr. Laul’s vindication, and thank him for the important and honest work he did on behalf of this country. Dr. Laul lost his job because he had the nerve to stand up for what was right.
You might say that’s all well and good for the taxpayers. But if you read further you might have cause to change your mind about that:
U.S. government investigators agreed that scientist Jagdish C. Laul was fired for turning in his managers for fraud.
A federal appeals court agreed Laul could sue the Hanford contractor for whom he worked for wrongful termination.
The government made the contractor, Battelle’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory pay back $330,000 for double-billing lab equipment–and even recommended Battelle managers be criminally prosecuted for fraud.
But who picked up the $750,000 tab for defending Battelle against Laul’s lawsuit?
Laul’s case is the most recent example of a system that allows private nuclear contractors to rack up huge legal bills fighting whistleblowers–even when the contractor’s in the wrong.
Battelle settled with Laul in January to head off a federal jury trial in Spokane.
The cost of his case to taxpayers includes the $250,000 settlement paid to Laul; $400,000 in legal fees to Battelle’s outside law firm, Davis Wright Tremaine of Seattle; and about $100,000 in legal work and other Battelle costs to fight Laul.
If Laul had won at trial, taxpayers would have paid that bill, too. That’s because of a Cold War agreement in which the U.S. government promised to pay all legal costs of its nuclear weapons contractors when they agreed to run the government’s weapons plants.
The agreement, called indemnification, is still in effect today. It applies to Battelle, which works on Hanford cleanup and other government nuclear programs.
Isn’t that nice? Battelle paid $330,000 for the fraud which sounds like was the amount they had illegally charged the government to begin with. And the Federal government has to pay all the legal costs of Battelle’s defense. So… assuming Battelle decides to engage in some illegal activity to increase their bottom line the worst case scenario is that Battelle comes out even in the end because the Feds are required to pay the legal bills. Best case is they get away with it.
In my case the Feds will, assuming I win, pay Battelle’s legal bill and any settlement I get from them. Battelle is held financially harmless by the Federal government. Just so you know. Perhaps your congress critters would like to know that as well.
Continuing the search engine exploration… So what happens if we do a search for Battelle whistleblower? That was interesting… We end up with this story which with a little more searching results in this and digging a little deeper yielded this (UT-B means the partnership between the University of Tennessee and Battelle that manages Oak Ridge National Laboratory [ORNL]):
In my settlement, I made sure that DOE and UT-B explicitly agreed that I had won the case. There were two reasons for this. One was that I did not want UT-B to be able to claim that I “dropped the case” or any such thing. But the other was that back in 1995 at PNNL, following a settlement in which Battelle paid their fired former employee J. C. Laul a sizeable amount for a whistleblower case that Laul was very likely to win if it had played out to the last act (legally speaking), PNNL head and later ORNL head Madia characterized the payout as “a straightforward business decision with the best interest of the US taxpayer in mind”. But as a Government Accountability Project lawyer pointed out, Battelle spent over $400,000 of taxpayer money defending against Laul’s whistleblower action, plus the $330,000 it had to return to the government for the fraudulent action that Laul (accurately) reported. Madia stated that the message of the settlement was “Don’t sue us [Battelle]”, but of course the true message was “We will get away with whatever we can”.
So what our search engines report for us with just a little looking is that Battelle has a history of making stuff up and firing people. I was telling Barb this new information and she said, “You would think they would learn.” Well yes, but there wasn’t much to learn and it’s a different lesson than the one we want them to learn. They have learned they can commit criminal acts and the worst that will happen is they come out even in the end–guaranteed by the contract they have with the Federal government. There are more amazingly great terms in their contract that I’ll save for another day. I wouldn’t want you to burst a vessel from a blood pressure spike.
Here are some of the lessons being taught to Battelle. This is right after being dinged for the first fraud case I mentioned above:
Battelle is expecting to receive an “outstanding” rating for fiscal year 1999 from the Department of Energy for its performance in operating Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland.
The rating is to become final and be announced in late December.
Last year, Battelle also received an outstanding rating. Even though its 1998 score fell just barely shy of the number needed for the top rating, DOE awarded the outstanding rating because of Battelle’s strong efforts in key areas.
This year, Battelle expects to be well above the minimum score needed for an outstanding rating, based in part on the lab’s self-assessment, outgoing lab Director Bill Madia said Wednesday during a meeting with the Tri-City Herald editorial board.
The real problem here is that Battelle/PNNL has no incentive to be responsible for their actions. It’s like a child that gets in trouble at school and the parents intervene in such a way the child is totally protected from any punishment. There is no downside for their misbehavior–there is only upside. That’s one of the ways criminals are created. After sufficient criminal activity they eventually get caught and then they go to prison. Which is has been my end goal from the beginning in then case. The PNNL felons need to spend some time being rented out by the quarter hour to fellow inmates bidding the most cigarettes for a few years and perhaps then the behavior of their previous co-workers will improve.
The above is just the tip of the iceberg. Battelle has other “skeletons in it’s closet” that are most likely to come tumbling out soon. I don’t have enough details to really be comfortable in talking about it even if I was at liberty to discuss it. I have been assured that I will be among the first to know when the details become public.
I’ll keep you posted.
Update: A reader pointed out one of my links was broken. That is fixed now.
Also worthy of update is another source that is more readable and has the potential to be less biased is the actual ruling of the DOE in Westbrook’s case:
There is evidence in the record that suggests that the RIF sheets, which contained the objective information on which the termination selections were to be made, were not given serious attention, and were drawn up to favor a pre-selected individual. I have reviewed the criteria set out on the RIF sheets and find troubling inaccuracies and manipulation.
In my view, the Company’s use of this criterion [transferability of skills] to assess whether an employee is flexible enough to “satisfy” or “get along with” customers is so strained that it suggests a manipulation of the system to reach a predetermined result. …. That leads me to believe its use was an afterthought, one designed to downgrade Westbrook and target her for termination. As such, it detracts from Battelle’s position that the RIF was performed impartially with respect to Westbrook.