The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Thursday, January 30, 2003

DOE suit's15th delay sparking questions
U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., wants answers about the whistleblower suit against Lockheed Martin.

By Bill Bartleman

A key Democratic congressman wants the U.S. Department of Energy to explain why it has delayed a decision on joining in a whistleblower suit against Lockheed Martin Corp. for alleged environmental mismanagement when it operated the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.

U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., expressed concern in a letter to Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham that the delay may be related to the political clout of Lockheed Martin, a major federal contractor that in 2002 donated more than $1 million to Republican candidates.

"I remain concerned about the extent of pressure that Lockheed Martin may bring to bear on DOE's decision making," said Waxman, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Government Reform.

The letter was sent Wednesday, the same day federal officials filed a motion in U.S. District Court in Paducah asking for a 15th extension of the deadline on whether to join the suit. The latest deadline expires Friday.

DOE officials have repeatedly declined to comment on the suit, which was filed in June 1999 by three current and former employees and an environmental group.

The suit claims that Lockheed, which operated the plant for the U.S. Department of Energy from 1982 until 1992, filed false environmental reports that allowed it to collect hundreds of millions of dollars in operating bonuses. The suit claims the mishandling of radioactive material and other chemicals caused widespread contamination that is costing the federal government more than $1 billion to clean up.

Lockheed Martin has strongly denied the allegations, which are also being investigated by a federal grand jury in Louisville.

U.S. Department of Justice officials in Kentucky spent more than $1 million investigating the allegations and more than a year ago recommended to their superiors that the federal government join the suit. However, a formal decision has been delayed while Justice officials wait for a recommendation from top DOE officials.

Assistance U.S. Attorney Bill Campbell, who has led the investigation, declined to comment on the status of the case.

The suit focused nationwide attention on theplant and the fact that some workers became ill from exposure and that groundwater pollution contaminated private wells in the area.

Waxman expressed concern in the five-page letter that continued delays are hurting the case. "The lawsuit will be seriously undermined as key participants move away or die," he said. "Delay in this case is very likely to result in justice denied."

He said that evidence of misconduct by Lockheed continues to mount, such as the federal grand jury investigation that could result in the filing of criminal charges.

"Under these circumstances, it is difficult to understand what legitimate rationale would explain ... (DOE's) inaction," Waxman said. "Insufficient resources sometimes force agencies to delay action on lower-priority matters. But in this case, Paducah workers are dying, the previous secretary of energy apologized in person for the harm caused, and Congress responded ... by passing legislation to compensate injured nuclear workers."

Waxman asked Abraham to respond to his letter by Feb. 12 and answer several questions.

First, he wants to know "by what date" DOE will respond to the Department of Justice's recommendation to get involved.

Second, he wants to know what additional information DOE needs to make its decision.

He said the case should not be taken lightly. "DOE's continuing failure to act is jeopardizing an important legal case and potentially risking the loss of several billion dollars in taxpayers' money, as well as discouraging future whistleblowers from revealing fraud by federal contractors."