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UNITED STATES FILES FALSE CLAIMS ACT COMPLAINT AGAINST DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY PRIME CONTRACTOR ALLEGING MILLIONS OF DOLLARS IN FRAUDULENT OVERCHARGING

Richland, Washington – Vanessa R. Waldref, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, announced today that the United States filed a Complaint in federal district court against Hanford Mission Integration Solutions, LLC (HMIS), alleging fraudulent labor overcharging at the Department of Energy (DOE) Hanford Nuclear Site.

DOE’s Hanford Nuclear Site, a 580-square-mile in southeast Washington, was established in 1943 as part of the Manhattan Project, and was used to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons, including those used in the Trinity Test and the “Fat Man” bomb detonated over Nagasaki during the final days of World War II.  Since the late 1980s, DOE has been engaged in an extensive environmental cleanup and decommissioning operation, involving remediation and treatment of large quantities of radioactive and hazardous waste.

HMIS is owned by three large government contracting companies: Leidos Integrated Technology, headquartered in Reston, Virginia; Centerra Group, LLC, headquartered in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida; and Parsons Government Services, headquartered in Centreville, Virginia.  Since January 2021, HMIS has held the multi-billion-dollar Hanford Mission Essential Services Contract.  Part of the HMIS contract requires it to provide fire protection and fire systems management services for the Hanford Site, in order to protect the public, the environment, and Hanford Site workers from fire hazards as well as from potential radiological or other hazards that could arise from natural or human-created fire activity.

The HMIS contract is a cost-type contract, meaning that HMIS is reimbursed for its reasonable, allowable, and allocable costs of performing work on the contract, and can earn profit, or fee, based on achieving various performance incentives.  Costs include labor costs, such as the cost associated with labor hours performed by fire protection and fire systems management personnel employed by HMIS at the Hanford Site, who perform critical tasks such as testing and maintaining sprinklers, pipes, and electronic fire systems.

The Complaint alleges that, between January 2021 and October 2023, HMIS engaged in a systemic and fraudulent overcharging of DOE for fire protection work at Hanford.  Specifically, the Complaint alleges that HMIS fire protection personnel regularly experienced extensive and unreasonable idle time on a daily or near-daily basis, due to HMIS’ failure to schedule and carry out work for them to perform.  The Complaint further alleges that, during this extensive idle time, HMIS fire protection personnel took naps, watched movies and television, and engaged in other personal activity not related to performing work.  The Complaint alleges that HMIS supervisors and management were fully aware of this extensive and unreasonable idle time for its personnel, but, rather than take steps to address it, they encouraged and directed HMIS fire protection personnel to falsely and fraudulently charge this idle time to work codes associated with HMIS’ contract, passing on the costs associated with this extensive and unreasonable idle time to DOE by fraudulently and falsely representing that work had been performed.

For example, the Complaint alleges that when a fire systems manager was asked via email how to charge a day in which a worker had no work to perform for the entire 10-hour day, the manager responded, via email: “[i]f they DID NOT have a job assignment for the day – that means you are on standby and would use the 600318.”  According to the Complaint, 600318 was the cost code associated with training.  The Complaint alleges, as an example, that a fire protection worker who did not have any work to perform for an entire 10-hour day, and spent a portion of that day watching the film “There’s Something About Mary” at his desk, then charged the entire 10-hour day to the 600318 training code, which HMIS management approved and submitted to DOE for reimbursement.

The Complaint also alleges that notwithstanding the extensive and unreasonable idle time during the regular, 10-hour Monday through Thursday Hanford workday, HMIS nonetheless scheduled substantial overtime for fire protection workers on Friday and weekends, and that these unnecessary overtime shifts themselves involved extensive and unreasonable idle time, causing DOE to be fraudulently billed for such shifts at premium pay rates.

The Complaint alleges that this systemic and pervasive practice of falsely and fraudulently billing DOE for extensive and unreasonable downtime was not only known to HMIS management, but encouraged by them.  For example, the Complaint alleges that in July 2022, Michael Winkel, HMIS’s Director of Fire Systems Maintenance, instructed a pipefitter via email to use CACN 600320, a cost code associated with performing “preventative maintenance” on the fire system, for “downtime the remainder of the day.”

According to the Complaint, HMIS’s systemic and pervasive overcharging and fraudulent billing resulted in millions of dollars in overcharges to DOE, and jeopardized the critical fire protection systems at Hanford because this extensive and unreasonable idle time occurred when there was, in fact, important fire protection work that could and should have been performed to safeguard the public, workers, and the environment from fire dangers, including during dangerous wildfire seasons.

“Fire safety at Hanford is critical to the health of the public, workers, and the environment,” said United States Attorney Waldref.  “It is inexcusable to think that a well-paid contractor entrusted with this critical task to protect our community would fraudulently bill DOE for idle time spent watching movies and literally sleeping on the job, all while putting the public at risk when critical work went uncompleted.  We will continue to work hand-in-glove with our law enforcement partners to end fraud and corruption at Hanford and support environmental remediation.”

This case was originally brought by Bradley Keever, a sprinkler fitter in the fire protection group at HMIS.  Under the False Claims Act, whistleblowers may file an action under seal in federal court.  The United States investigates the allegations and determines whether to intervene in the action.  Under the False Claims Act, the United States may recover up to three times the damages caused by the Defendant, plus additional penalties for each false claim or statement.  If the United States obtains a recovery, the whistleblower is generally able to share in a portion of the recovery.  Over the past decade, False Claims Act recoveries in the Eastern District of Washington have exceeded $400 million.

Assistant United States Attorneys Frieda Zimmerman, Molly Smith, and Dan Fruchter are prosecuting this case on behalf of the United States.  The investigation was conducted by the Department of Energy, Office of Inspector General.

The claims articulated in the Complaint are allegations only; at this time there has been no determination of liability.

Case No. 4:21-cv-05156-SAB