Nuclear site employees laid off in South Carolina after the end of Recovery Act spending got a better deal than Hanford workers, according to an audit report of the Department of Energy Office of Inspector General released Monday.
"The department needs to ensure that similarly situated workers are treated with reasonable consistency," the report said.
It concluded that DOE could have saved $7.7 million paid to workers at the Savannah River, S.C., site by using the same policy as the one used at Hanford, where about 2,000 workers lost their jobs.
Savannah River Nuclear Solution workers received 60 days' pay rather than advance notice of termination, in addition to severance pay and other health and outplacement benefits.
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At Hanford, most workers or their unions were given 60 days' notice -- the amount required by the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, or WARN Act -- plus severance pay and other health and outplacement benefits.
"In terms of work product, as a result of the Hanford policy, the department will receive 60 days of additional environmental remediation services," the report said.
Savannah River justified providing extra pay instead of notification because of security risks associated with high hazard work. That has been its practice since 1993.
Unlike Hanford, Savannah River does nuclear weapons work, but workers who were laid off there were doing environmental cleanup work similar to that done at Hanford. Hanford is contaminated from World War II and Cold War production of weapons plutonium.
Savannah River officials conducted no analysis of whether the pay for 60 days' work at Savannah River was needed and DOE Headquarters provided no guidance on the issue, the report stated.
"These payments were not specifically required by the WARN Act, and in ourjudgment, the argument put forth regarding additional risk had not been fully analyzed and was, therefore, problematic," the report stated.
The WARN Act can apply to DOE contractors if at least 500 employees are laid off within 90 days, according to the report.
Overall, the report found that DOE did a good job managing layoffs as federal economic stimulus spending was completed, mostly at the end of fiscal 2011 in September.
Hanford received and spent about $1.96 billion.
But additional action is required to ensure that transition costs are limited to those required and necessary, the report said. It recommended that DOE review inconsistencies among its nuclear sites and provide guidance as needed.
DOE said it would require approval by senior managers in the DOE environmental management program in Washington, D.C., for payments in lieu of notice. It also will provide additional guidance to sites on WARN Act notice.
-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; firstname.lastname@example.org