Markey to DOE: No Public Funds For Legal Fees for Contractors Who Fight Whistleblower Suits

Senator authored provisions in 2005 energy bill that increased protections for DOE whistleblowers

Washington (April 7, 2016) – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) today queried the Department of Energy (DOE) about its efforts to ensure that public funds are not being used to reimburse legal fees and settlement costs for contractors that engage in illegal conduct. In 2005, Senator Markey included provisions in the Energy Policy Act to limit the circumstances under which DOE contractors could receive federal reimbursement for legal fees and to prevent DOE from indiscriminately reimbursing contractors for legal fees resulting from cases in which they were at fault. In 1997 in the case of Dee Kotla, taxpayers ended up paying more than $10 million in legal fees and costs even after Ms. Kotla won her case after being wrongfully fired for allegedly making $4.30 worth of personal calls after she testified for a plaintiff in a sexual harassment case against staff of a DOE contractor. A February 2016 audit from DOE’s own Inspector General (OIG) says DOE has failed to implement policies or rules that outline that it cannot reimburse a contractor for legal fees or costs associated with whistleblower complaints unless the contractor establishes during a settlement review that the plaintiff had little chance of success with the complaint.  

“Indiscriminate reimbursement wastes taxpayer money, endangers public safety, and discourages whistleblowers from coming forward to report security or safety violations or fraudulent activity,” writes the Senator in the letter to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. “And by indiscriminately reimbursing their legal fees, DOE encourages contractors to engage in endless appeals, exhausting the resources of whistleblowers and potentially enabling contractors to win by default despite engaging in illegal conduct.”

 

A copy of Senator Markey’s letter to DOE can be found HERE.

 

In his letter, Senator Markey asks what steps since the release of the OIG’s audit is DOE taking to ensure that contractors are not being reimbursed for unallowable legal costs and fees and why these steps did not lead to system-wide implementation of a policy reviewing all alleged discrimination and whistleblower retaliation settlements. Senator Markey also specifically requested more information about legal fees for several cases in which whistleblowers were retaliated against and improperly removed from their jobs, including $4.1 million in the case of Hanford Waste Treatment Plant manager Dr. Walt Tamosaitis, Hanford employees Donna Busche, Kirt Clem and Matt Spencer, and most recently, Savannah River Site employee Sandra Black, who was terminated in 2015 after she spoke with Government Accountability Office investigators looking into allegations of whistleblower retaliation and harassment.

 

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