Officials to discuss alleged whistleblower retaliation before Senate panel

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldMarch 10, 2013 

Hanford contractor and Department of Energy officials are scheduled to appear before a Senate subcommittee Tuesday to discuss alleged whistleblower retaliation at Hanford.

It will be at least the third time since 2011 that Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., has looked into Hanford vitrification plant issues. She is the chairwoman of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Financial and Contracting Oversight subcommittee.

This hearing will look at safety culture at the Hanford plant, including how whistleblower reports are handled, according to the agenda for the hearing.

Two vitrification plant whistleblowers, Walt Tamosaitis and Donna Busche, had expected to testify at the hearing, along with Tom Carpenter, executive director of Hanford Challenge.

Instead, McCaskill will hold a public roundtable discussion with them before the hearing, according to Hanford Challenge. They also will submit written testimony.

The witnesses listed on the Senate website for the hearing are Bill Eckroade, deputy chief of operations for the DOE Office of Health, Safety and Security; Matt Moury, deputy assistant secretary for the DOE Office of Environmental Management safety programs; James Taylor, a senior vice president for URS Corp., and Michael Graham, Bechtel National principal vice president.

Both Tamosaitis and Busche have said they were removed from key management positions at the plant because they raised questions about the future safe operation of the plant. Bechtel, the DOE contractor on the project, and URS, its primary subcontractor, have said that is not true.

"It is indicative of Hanford's culture that whistleblowers cannot present testimony at a hearing about retaliation against whistleblowers," Hanford Challenge said in message sent to its members.

The group questioned whether Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., the ranking Republican on the committee, had blocked a plan to call Busche, Tamosaitis and Carpenter before the Senate subcommittee by not signing their invitations to the hearing.

Johnson did not refuse to sign invitations, said his press secretary, Melinda Schnell.

New witnesses were proposed three business days before the hearing, which did not allow sufficient time to gather information, she said.

"Sen. Johnson would be happy to hold a hearing on a separate date with these witnesses, where their testimony can be fully explored, and where they would be afforded fair and due process," she said.

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

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