Whistleblower at vit plant says retaliation continues

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldNovember 18, 2013 

A key official at the Hanford vitrification plant has filed a second legal complaint, saying she continues to suffer retaliation and harassment since filing a whistleblower complaint two years ago.

Donna Busche, the manager of environmental and nuclear safety at the vitrification plant, filed the new complaint with the Department of Labor, naming URS Energy and Construction and Bechtel National as respondents.

Bechtel and URS strongly denied Busche's accusations Monday.

Busche is employed by URS, the primary subcontractor of Bechtel, which holds the Department of Energy contract to build and commission the vitrification plant. "Busche's job is to raise technical and safety issues," including issues that could lead to an unplanned nuclear reaction, according to the second complaint.

She filed her first complaint with the Department of Labor in 2010 and that claim has moved to federal court.

The additional complaint lists 32 examples of alleged harassment and retaliation, including that Bechtel tried to have Busche removed as "key personnel" from its contract with DOE. People listed as key personnel can only be removed from their positions with DOE permission.

Bechtel was unsuccessful in that attempt, but reduced her organizational authority by adding layers between her assigned work and other key project organizations, the complaint said. She has been systematically isolated from vit plant project meetings and stripped of her decision-making authority, it said.

She no longer is considered a senior manager at URS and has been excluded from routine company meetings and communications to other employees at her level of pay, the complaint said. Her work and her decisions have been subjected to unfair scrutiny, including unscheduled reviews, audits and external evaluations, the complaint said.

Bechtel did not allow Bushe and her organization to participate when former Energy Secretary Steven Chu stepped in to resolve questions about technical and operational safety issues at the vit plant, an initiative continued by Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, according to the complaint. Documents and reports prepared for the initiative were sent to DOE without required reviews by Busche's team, the complaint said.

She also was excluded from input on documents prepared by Bechtel for the resolution of nuclear safety issues and the restart of engineering work at the plant's High Level Waste Facility, where construction had been stopped as potential safety issues are reviewed, the complaint said.

The actions by Bechtel and URS have damaged her professional reputation and career and discouraged other workers from bringing up safety and engineering concerns that could threaten the profits of the two companies, the complaint said.

Bechtel has found no merit in her original or her second complaint, said Bechtel spokesman Todd Nelson.

"Ms. Busche has not been subjected to retaliation, nor will we tolerate retaliation or harassment in any form against anyone who raises a concern," he said.

URS said in a statement that Busche's complaint "contains numerous factual allegations and legal conclusions that will not withstand scrutiny. We look forward to the Department of Labor's investigation and the opportunity to correct these errors."

URS is confident the evidence will show its managers acted appropriately in all dealings with Busche, the statement said.

Since Busche filed her initial complaint in 2011, multiple investigations by different government agencies have confirmed safety and technical issues she raised, said Hanford Challenge in a press release. The concerns were shared by others, including whistleblower Walter Tamosaitis, the former research and technology manager for the vit plant project, and Gary Brunson, DOE's former DOE chief engineer on the project.

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

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