The inspector general of the U.S. Department of Energy has concluded that Heather Wilson, president of the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, improperly was paid with taxpayer money to lobby on behalf of a private company seeking to extend a $2.4 billion annual federal contract.
But Wilson on Tuesday said she played no role in an elaborate lobbying effort on behalf of the private operators of Sandia National Laboratories.
A report by DOE Inspector General Gregory H. Friedman alleged that Sandia Corp., a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin, devised a complex strategy to “campaign aggressively” with congressional leaders, top Obama administration advisers and then-DOE Secretary Steven Chu to extend Sandia’s no-bid contract for operating two laboratories in New Mexico and California that together employ nearly 10,000 people.
Freidman wrote that the plan represented a clear violation of federal acquisition guidelines, Sandia’s own contract with the DOE and a federal law barring the use of congressionally appropriated funds to influence contract decisions. Friedman said the costs of the efforts by Sandia were paid for with money the federal government had awarded the company.
“Given the specific prohibitions against such activity," the report said, "we believe that the use of federal funds for the development of a plan to influence members of Congress and federal officials to, in essence, prevent competition was inexplicable and unjustified.”
Sandia had sought a six-year, no-bid extension. The DOE extended the no-competition contract for two years so the agency could prepare for a “full and open competition,” the Inspector General said.
The report said the Inspector General opened the probe as the result of a June 2013 report that questioned consulting contracts at various DOE sites, and after “a preliminary review of documentation from 2009 through 2011 regarding consultant activities between Heather Wilson, LLC (the principal of which is a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives) and SNL."
The Sandia National Laboratories, owned by the government but operated by the contractor, often goes by the initials SNL.
“On March 27, 2013, the Sandia Field Office alleged that SNL impermissibly attempted to influence an extension to the Sandia Corporation contract and engaged Ms. Wilson in these activities,” the report stated. “Given the seriousness of this allegation, the Office of Inspector General initiated a Special Inquiry into the facts and circumstances surrounding the allegation.”
On Tuesday, Wilson a former New Mexico congresswoman, said she was not involved in any unlawful attempts to lobby federal officials to extend the Sandia contract.
“With respect to me individually, the allegation made by the Sandia Site Office was not substantiated,” Wilson stated in an email response. “I was not a lobbyist for Sandia and I did not contact any federal official — Congressional or Executive — to try to extend the Sandia contract. The results of the DOE inquiry don’t mention me and I wasn’t included in the meetings the report refers to, which, according to the report, apparently included only Sandia and Lockheed Martin employees. The DOE did not contact me as part of this review.”
You have free articles remaining.
Asked if, as the report contends, she had contacted on behalf of Sandia the New Mexico congressional delegation, a former U.S. senator, the head of the National Nuclear Security Administration or advisers to Secretary Chu, Wilson replied by email with a succinct “no” each time. Wilson also said by email that she was no longer active in her consulting firm.
Wilson’s biography on Mines’ website states that, in addition to being a former Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Air Force officer, “Dr. Wilson has worked as a senior adviser to top-tier national laboratories.”
Despite Wilson's assertions to the contrary, Friedman told the Federal Eye Blog on Wednesday that Wilson was “deeply, deeply involved” in the tactics described in the report.
An addendum to Friedman’s report also states that at DOE’s urging, Sandia had concurred with the findings, conducted a review of fees paid to a “consultant named in the report” and, as a result, had reimbursed NNSA $226,378 in April 2013.
Wilson is the only consultant identified in the report.
Shortly after the South Dakota Board of Regents unanimously approved hiring Wilson last year to lead Mines on a one-year contract valued at $321,360, another DOE investigation concluded her consulting firm charged the agency more than $450,000, but could not document the work.
The payments to Wilson by Lockheed Martin, Bechtel and others were made to the firm Heather Wilson & Co. from early 2009 through early 2011, after Wilson had left Congress but before her unsuccessful bid for the Senate in 2012, according to the Washington Post.
The report said Wilson received 23 payments totaling $226,378 from Sandia, as well as 19 payments totaling $195,718 for work related to Los Alamos. She also was paid about $30,000 from contractors at Nevada and Oak Ridge national laboratories.
The four contractors involved subsequently reimbursed the DOE for the payments, the Post reported. The federal government recovered $442,877 of the $464,203 paid to Wilson, the Associated Press later reported.
On Tuesday evening, Wilson said the $226,378 reimbursement was referencing the review conducted by the Inspector General in 2012-2013, not the most recent findings.
“Sandia resisted reimbursing the government in 2013,” Wilson said via email. “Sandia was very happy with my work and never asked me to reimburse them. Indeed, they were pleased enough to offer me a full time position as vice president of the lab at an increase in pay. I declined the offer in order to run for the United States Senate.”