The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Iowa senator challenges DOE on delay
The whistle-blower case involving the Paducah plant has the lawmaker concerned about a cozy relationship with Lockheed.

By Bill Bartleman

Another high-ranking senator has written a letter accusing the U.S. Department of Energy of failing to cooperate with the Department of Justice's investigation of claims in a whistle-blower lawsuit that Lockheed Martin filed false environmental reports when it operated the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.

U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, ranking Republican on the Senate Committee on Finance, expressed concern that DOE "may not be moving as quickly or efficiently as they could be," possibly to protect Lockheed from a potential judgment that some say could be $1 billion or more.

He is asking Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham for documents showing DOE's dealings in the case.

"Specifically, I am seeking documents and other materials to determine whether any relationships with Lockheed Martin may be slowing, or stalling, your department's pace in reaching a resolution in this matter expeditiously," Grassley said.

Grassley, who wrote major provisions of the 1986 whistle-blower law, said he's concerned that cozy relationships between government agencies and private contractors sometimes prevent investigations from being pursued.

"Too often in the past, I have seen agencies place a premium on cozy relationships with their contractors, especially those with well-connected lobbyists on the job, over and above the need to protect the taxpayers' money," Grassley said.

The suit, filed in 1999 by three plant workers and an environmental watchdog group, claims Lockheed Martin was paid millions of dollars in operating bonuses based on false environmental reports. It also claims that improper disposal of waste caused workers to become ill and is now costing the federal government more than $1 billion to clean up.

Lockheed Martin has denied the claims.

Justice officials have been investigating the accusations to determine whether the federal government should become a plaintiff in the suit. The Sun reported last year that Justice investigators in Kentucky recommended joining the suit, but that the final decision has been delayed because of DOE opposition. The Justice Department now faces a Sept. 1 deadline for making a formal decision.

The letter by Grassley follows a letter sent last week by U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., ranking minority member of the U.S. House Committee on Government Reform. One of his concerns was that DOE might not be cooperating fully because of its close relationship with Lockheed.

Grassley said the False Claims Act was strengthened in 1986 to combat waste of taxpayers' funds. Since, he said, more than 2,800 cases have been filed and more than $5.2 billion recovered.

Grassley's request for information includes telephone and electronic records of contacts with Lockheed, a list of DOE employees who have been involved in the case and a list of employees who would be available to be interviewed by the Finance Committee about the case.