Fluor may settle lawsuit alleging improper lobbying for HAMMER training center

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldMarch 4, 2013 

The federal government has negotiated a tentative settlement agreement in a whistleblower lawsuit accusing Fluor Hanford of using federal money to lobby for funds for the HAMMER training center at Hanford, according to court documents.

Significant progress has been made in resolving the case, with a tentative settlement agreement reached but not yet approved, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern Washington District told U.S. Judge William Fremming Nielsen last week in court documents.

"The parties need a limited period of time to complete their negotiations and finalize the proposed settlement," said court documents filed by the U.S. Attorney's Office. "Specifically, the United States is in the process of seeking authority to resolve this matter for the proposed amount. The parties also need some additional time to negotiate and finalize settlement agreement language."

Nielsen, an Eastern Washington U.S. District judge, agreed to give the U.S. Attorney's Office until April 15 to either resolve the case or file a complaint against Fluor Hanford and its parent company, Fluor Corp.

In November, the Department of Justice announced it would take over a previously sealed whistleblower lawsuit accusing Fluor of improperly using federal money to lobby from 2005-08. The federal government had 120 days then to file a complaint.

Fluor said in November that it vigorously denied the allegations.

Loydene Rambo, who previously was a contracting official for HAMMER, filed the whistleblower lawsuit in 2011. Initial efforts by HAMMER to grow by marketing training to regional first responders, such as the Seattle Fire Department, were not as financially successful as planned, Rambo's court complaint said.

In 2005, HAMMER hired Congressional Strategies and Secure Horizons Consulting to market its training capabilities using Department of Energy money, court documents alleged. Members of Congress and federal agencies were lobbied to include additional money for HAMMER in congressional appropriations for the agencies, according to the lawsuit.

Congressional Strategies was paid $398,164, and Secure Horizons was paid $278,148, according to court documents.

However, taxpayer money for HAMMER was intended to be used for training federal emergency response personnel and first responders, not to lobby for more money, according to the Justice Department. To receive its Department of Energy contract, Fluor was required to certify it would not use federal money for lobbying, according to court documents.

Two HAMMER officials with salaries paid with federal money also lobbied for appropriations that would benefit the training center, Rambo's lawsuit alleged.

Rambo, who resigned from HAMMER, said she repeatedly raised concerns about what she saw as lobbying but was "rebuffed, threatened and abused," according to court documents.

She filed her lawsuit under the False Claims Act, which allows private parties to sue on behalf of the United States and share in any recovery. The act authorizes the Department of Justice to intervene in a False Claims Act lawsuit and take over responsibility for litigating it.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @HanfordNews

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