Dispute over Hanford consultants goes to federal court

A dispute over supplying engineering consultants at Hanford has landed in federal court, with one company accusing another of "hijacking" employees it claims already were headed to Hanford jobs.

Oxford Global Resources of Massachusetts has filed suit against BNL Technical Services of Richland in U.S. Eastern Washington District Court and asked for a preliminary injunction to prevent BNL from contracting with Oxford employee consultants for Hanford jobs.

BNL has filed a counterclaim accusing Oxford of defamation and asking the court to prohibit Oxford from interfering with its business. It said it correctly followed the competitive process to place employees at Hanford.

At issue are jobs being filled by Washington River Protection Solutions (WRPS), the Hanford tank farms contractor, after it began to receive $326 million in federal economic stimulus money. WRPS expects to bring on board nearly 100 engineer/contractors within the next 12 months, Oxford said in court documents.

Oxford began placing specialized engineering consultants at Hanford after WRPS began receiving stimulus funds by working with ELR Consulting, of Kennewick, which qualifies as a small business owned by a service-disabled veteran. WRPS has a goal to get a large percentage of its goods and services from such small minority businesses, Oxford said in court documents.

In September WRPS contacted Oxford for more engineering consultants, and Oxford arranged interviews at WRPS for four engineers and executed consulting agreements for the assignments, according to Oxford.

However, then the WRPS procurement department sent a request for bids for hiring three of the engineers as consultants not only to ELR, but also to BNL and a third small, minority-owned company.

Previous discussions between WRPS and Oxford evidently had not included the WRPS procurement department.

Oxford claimed in court papers that BNL told the engineers that Oxford could not place them at Hanford and submitted its own bid for supplying the engineers to WRPS. WRPS accepted the BNL bid, which offered the lowest price.

BNL made statements "to create fear among the consultants, some of whom were already on their way to Hanford, and to convince them to join BNL's bid," Oxford said in court documents. BNL also offered to pay more, in one case $13 more an hour, said court documents filed by Oxford.

BNL responded in court documents that Oxford could not have contracts for the engineering consultants because it was not a minority or disabled-veteran owned business, which WRPS required, and had not participated in a competitive process to become one of the three pre-approved subcontractors. Becoming a pre-approved subcontractor also required preapproved rates.

BNL said it had the rsums of at least two of the engineers already in its database. It also accused Oxford of making defamatory statements about BNL to at least one of the engineers.

BNL said that when it received the WRPS notice naming the preferred engineer candidates, "WRPS did not intend or expect BNL Tech to contract with Oxford for submission of the engineers."

BNL won the subcontract with WRPS because the bid ELR submitted was too high after including markups for ELR and Oxford, BNL said in court documents.

"In essence Oxford is crying sour grapes for not winning with a double mark-up bid," BNL said in court documents.

-- Annette Cary: 509-582-1533;