Job lined up while at DOE site: report Critics say the revolving-door practice compromises DOE's ability to hold its contractors accountable.
Jimmie Hodges had lined up consulting work for a company seeking a government contract before quitting as the Department of Energy’s site manager at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.
When he resigned his government job Oct. 1, 1999, Hodges already was described as a key employee of ELR Consultants in a proposal the company submitted on Sept. 10 for a contract paid for with Energy Department money, according to a report Sunday in The Courier-Journal of Louisville.
The company, based in Oak Ridge, Tenn., got a $200,000 contract in December from the Paducah Area Community Reuse Organization, a group that has received $8.4 million in taxpayer money to find jobs for laid-off workers and new uses for the uranium plant.
Hodges had been a member of the Paducah reuse organization board when ELR made its proposal for the contract to find ways to reuse 9,700 tons of radioactive nickel stored at the plant, the newspaper reported.
Several attempts to reach Hodges for comment were unsuccessful.
Energy Department lawyers at Oak Ridge told Hodges in a letter after he quit that it was legal for him to work for the consulting firm, according to organization board minutes.
However, critics noted that many Energy Department officials have resigned to go to work for contractors, bidders or consultants. They say it compromises DOE’s ability to hold its contractors accountable.
‘‘The whole revolving-door thing undermines the integrity of DOE’s credibility and its management,’’ said Robert Alvarez, a former assistant secretary of energy who is now an Energy Department critic.
Arjun Mahkijani, a nuclear critic and president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research in Washington, said, ‘‘It’s really a very serious problem. Not only are individuals going to work for contractors,’’ but many ‘‘have their eye on doing that’’ while still working for DOE.
‘‘I think they cannot provide truly sound advice and make sound decisions that benefit the taxpayers and cleanup if they are eyeing jobs with contractors, because their pocketbook has been in conflict with their intellect,’’ he said.
Among the Energy Department officials who have gone to work for contractors are two former top managers at its Oak Ridge offices, Joe LaGrone and Jim Hall, the newspaper reported.
LaGrone was hired by British Nuclear Fuels Ltd., a company that won a DOE contract to recycle metal at Oak Ridge. Hall went to work for Westinghouse, which was bidding on a DOE contract at the time.
Steve Wyatt, an Energy Department spokesman, said both men complied with the law and avoided becoming involved in matters that would have posed a conflict. Moreover, Wyatt said that because of the highly specialized and technical nature of nuclear work, the services of departing employees are in demand by contractors.
Hodges had firmed up his job with ELR Consultants before leaving his position as the Energy Department’s Paducah site manager. At the time, Hodges did not publicly disclose his plans but said his departure was not related to controversy about DOE’s slow cleanup at the Paducah plant.
In a Sept. 10 proposal to the Paducah reuse organization, ELR had listed Hodges as one of three ‘‘key personnel’’ who would work on the contract, according to an Oct. 1 letter from a lawyer representing ELR.
ELR was the only bidder on the contract, though the organization says it asked for bids from more than 50 groups. The Oct. 1 letter from attorney Wallace Conaway indicated that the company was confident it would land the job.
The lawyer described Hodges as an ‘‘anticipated future ELR employee’’ and said ELR intended to make him a ‘‘deputy program manager’’ who would report to Bill E. Lindsey, a former executive with two of the companies operating the Paducah plant.
Hodges’ new job was announced at the Oct. 20 meeting of the Paducah reuse organization board. The minutes show that the board then appointed a ‘‘technical committee’’ to negotiate with ELR that included several people with whom Hodges had worked closely.
They included Myrna Redfield, who was subordinate to Hodges in the DOE site office; Dale Jackson, who succeeded Hodges as interim site manager; and Jimmy Massey, then the Paducah manager of DOE cleanup contractor Lockheed Martin, who worked closely with Hodges for years.
Also on the committee was Larry Jackson, an executive from the United States Enrichment Corp., the private company that leases and operates the plant, which enriches uranium for nuclear power plant fuel.
Henry Hodges, an official of a state-funded regional planning agency that provides staff to the Paducah reuse organization — and no relation to Jimmie Hodges — defended the appointments.
‘‘We are talking about things that are so technical that we must make use of the technical and expert advice we have available to us on the PACRO (board) regardless of the special interests in the room,’’ he told the board. ‘‘It is our responsibility to acknowledge those special interests and to work together in the best interests of PACRO.’’
Board members were not unanimous in their comfort with the arrangement.
John Driskill, a board member who is a security guard at the plant, said he disagreed with Hodges taking the job with a contractor that the reuse organization was about to hire.
‘‘I’m not saying Jimmie has done anything wrong, but the appearance of it looks bad,’’ Driskill said recently.
ELR’s contract began Jan. 1, 2000. The company’s scope of work calls for it to develop numerous policies and protocols and offer consulting advice on how to realize a profit from reusing nickel at the plant.