WASHINGTON – Former U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson collected nearly half a million dollars in questionable payments from four federally funded nuclear labs after she left office, the Energy Department's inspector general says in a new report.
Wilson failed to provide documentation for the work she did to earn $20,000 a month from the Los Alamos and Sandia national labs in New Mexico from January 2009 to March 2011, the report said. Officials at the Nevada Test Site and Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee acknowledged there "were no deliverables" associated with $30,000 the two labs paid Wilson. And Sandia and Los Alamos appear to have asked Wilson to help them secure more work for the labs, an apparent violation of her contract, the report said.
In total, nearly $450,000 in questionable payments were identified, the bulk from Los Alamos and Sandia.
The contractors that run the labs billed the payments to the government, "even though they did not receive evidence that work performed under the agreements had been completed," the report said. The payments were fully reimbursed by the government.
The contractors, which include Lockheed Martin, Bechtel and other companies, have since paid back most of the money to the government, but an investigation continues. In all the government recovered $442,877 of $464,203 paid to Wilson, the report said.
In a statement emailed Tuesday to The Associated Press, Wilson said the report "confirms that the labs were satisfied with my work. The work was done in full compliance with the contracts we signed and under the direct supervision of lab sponsors."
The report called Wilson's agreements with the labs unusual and in some cases "highly irregular." And it said the agreements and the lab operators failed to include or enforce "even minimum" invoicing standards required under federal regulations.
Wilson, a Republican who represented New Mexico's 1st Congressional District, collected much of the money in between two unsuccessful runs for the U.S. Senate. She was defeated last year by Democrat Martin Heinrich during a campaign that highlighted her connections to Los Alamos and Sandia. The labs conduct classified research on nuclear weapons.
Wilson, a former Air Force officer, has a doctorate in international relations and is a former staffer for the National Security Council. She campaigned as an expert on defense, arms control, and intelligence matters.
During the 2012 Senate campaign, the AP sought copies of Wilson's contracts with the labs after she disclosed income from Los Alamos, Sandia and Oak Ridge. And all three labs called the documents confidential.
Saying much of her work was classified, Wilson's campaign declined to release the contracts. But it said her work included helping Oak Ridge establish a senior advisory group on intelligence; providing advice to senior managers at Los Alamos on nuclear deterrence and threat reduction programs, and serving on the Intelligence Advisory Panel for Sandia National Labs.
"Her relationship with our national labs goes back over 20 years and she has worked on a wide range of projects with different groups of scientists and engineers over time," her campaign said last year.
In a statement, Los Alamos said it "was reasonable and appropriate" to seek Wilson's services, calling her "uniquely qualified to advise the lab on a variety of issues related to our national security missions."
Even so, the lab added, "we acknowledge we did not document her services consistent with our own expectations for subcontract management." The lab, which is managed by Bechtel, Babcock & Wilcox Technical Services, the University of California and others, said it was taking steps to avoid similar concerns with future consulting agreements.
Sandia issued a similar statement, but claimed it has documentation that "demonstrates we received commensurate value" from Wilson in support of the lab's missions.
The National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees the national labs, requested the DOE review of whether the agreement between the contractor that runs Los Alamos and Wilson was properly administered.
In addition to problems with the contracts and documentation of services provided by Wilson, the report said an agency contract officer was "subjected to pressure'" when Los Alamos National Security, LLC, which runs Los Alamos, requested approval to enter an agreement with Wilson. The report said inspectors were unable to identify any evidence of that pressure.
It noted that the separate investigation continues. The report was issued by the civil division. The office also conducts criminal investigations.
The report is the latest in a string of reprimands from government oversight agencies for a lack of oversight of contracts and projects at the nation's nuclear facilities.
Congress has created a special committee to study a potential overhaul of the NNSA, which oversees about $8 billion in federal contracts. The agency suffered another blow last month, when its acting director suddenly announced she is stepping down after less than six months in the top spot.
Wilson is a member of the oversight panel, having been appointed by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. A nuclear watchdog group called on Wilson to recuse herself or be barred from the committee.
"The problems are not limited to Ms. Wilson," said Greg Mello, who heads the Los Alamos Study Group in Albuquerque. "There are pervasive problems with improper contracting at NNSA. Billions of dollars in contract extensions can be awarded by the stroke of an administrator's pen."
Wilson gave up her seat five years ago to run for the nomination to replace her mentor, longtime New Mexico Republican Sen. Pete Domenici. She lost in a tight primary, but ran again last year against Heinrich in a race to replace retiring Sen. Jeff Bingaman, a Democrat.
Wilson called herself a consultant and said she turned down a top spot at Sandia to make her second run for Senate.
Clausing reported from Albuquerque, N.M.