Fluor Hanford settles lawsuit for $1.1M

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldApril 2, 2013 

Fluor Corp. has agreed to pay $1.1 million to settle a lawsuit accusing it of improperly using federal money to lobby for new government customers for the HAMMER training facility from 2005 to 2008.

Fluor denied that it did anything wrong in the settlement agreement, which had been signed but not filed in federal court Tuesday. Fluor was following instructions in its contract, it said.

"No false claims were submitted to the government and no lobbying or other laws were violated," Fluor said in the statement.

A former contracting official for HAMMER, Loydene Rambo, filed a whistleblower lawsuit against Fluor in 2011. The federal government took over the case last year and will pay Rambo $200,000 of the $1.1 settlement it receives.

She filed the lawsuit under the False Claims Act, which allows private parties to sue on behalf of the United States and share in any recovery.

Fluor Hanford operated the Hanford training center for the Department of Energy from 1996 to 2009.

Rambo said in her claim that 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.

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.

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.

Fluor said in a statement Tuesday that Fluor Hanford's contract with DOE obligated it to encourage other government agencies to use HAMMER to "increase economies of scale and promote more cost-effective operation and maintenance."

The goal was to reduce costs to taxpayers by reducing HAMMER's funding requirements, Fluor said.

"Fluor was prepared to prove that the use of consultants to contact other government agencies to market the HAMMER facility was fully known to and overseen by ranking Department of Energy officials, who themselves were involved in meetings and communications with the consultants and other government agencies," Fluor said.

It was prepared to prove there was nothing improper about the marketing efforts by either DOE or Fluor, it said.

Fluor decided to settle to avoid the expense and distraction of litigation and did not act illegally or improperly, it said.

The federal government said that the settlement is not a concession that its claims were not well-founded, according to the agreement.

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