On Wednesday, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that top-25 federal contractor Fluor Corporation paid $1.1 million to settle a whistleblower lawsuit alleging the company had violated the False Claims Act by improperly using federal funds for lobbying. The settlement agreement is posted here.
As the Project On Government Oversight explained when we first blogged about the case back in November, the Byrd Amendment prohibits contractors from using federal funds to lobby the federal government in connection with awarding, extending, or modifying a contract. Contractors must certify (see FAR Subpart 52.203-11) that they will comply with this prohibition.
Fluor was the managing contractor at the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Hanford Nuclear Site in Washington State from 1996 until 2009, when management was taken over by Mission Support Alliance, LLC (MSA), a joint venture consisting of Lockheed Martin, Jacobs Engineering, and Wackenhut. A whistleblower named Loydene Rambo filed a lawsuit alleging that Fluor and MSA spent approximately $670,000 in DOE funds to lobby Congress and the executive branch for additional appropriations and contracts for the Volpentest HAMMER (Hazardous Materials Management and Emergency Response) Training Facility at the site. The DOJ intervened in the lawsuit only as to the claims against Fluor.
Fluor’s public statement about the settlement emphasizes that it did not admit to any improper conduct. “To the contrary,” the company insists, “Fluor Hanford’s contract with the Department of Energy obligated the Company to encourage other government agencies to use the HAMMER facility….Fluor was prepared to prove that the use of consultants to contact other government agencies to market the HAMMER facility was fully known to and overseen by ranking Department of Energy officials, who themselves were involved in meetings and communications with the consultants, and other government agencies.”
Rambo will receive $200,000 from the settlement. She still has claims pending against MSA, Lockheed, Jacobs, Wackenhut, and the two lobbying firms Fluor and MSA hired—Congressional Strategies, LLC, and Secure Horizons Consulting, LLC. The settlement also leaves open the possibility of the government pursuing criminal charges and administrative remedies, including suspension and debarment, against Fluor and its current or former employees.