The revolving door has long been a problem in Washington, DC. Members of Congress and other public servants can be working for the government one day and making the big bucks at the private businesses they previously regulated the very next.
Former Representative Heather Wilson (R-N.M.) recently made news when her 2009 trip through the revolving door resulted in a Department of Energy Inspector General investigation into the almost half a million dollars paid to her company by four nuclear laboratories.
Shortly after leaving Congress, Wilson established consulting contracts with the four nuclear labs—Sandia National Laboratories, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Nevada National Security Site—generating over $450,000 for Heather Wilson and Company, LLC., between 2009 and 2011. But the Inspector General report found that there was little to no documentation of the services she actually provided. The vague nature of Wilson’s agreements with the labs led to serious questions about redundant work, prohibitions that may have been violated, and whether there were any deliverables.
The labs have since repaid $442,877of the taxpayer funds spent on Wilson’s alleged consulting services, but Wilson’s company, of which she is the only employee, has kept the nearly half a million dollars she received for doing who knows what.
Now, new documents obtained by Nuclear Watch New Mexico director Jay Coghlan and publicized by the Albuquerque Journal reveal that Wilson left Congress on January 3, 2009, and began working for Sandia National Laboratories for $10,000 a month the very next day.
Technically this is legal—the law states that Members of Congress may negotiate future employments once their successor has been elected. But just because these actions do not technically break the law doesn’t mean that they should be ethically acceptable.
According to the Albuquerque Journal, Wilson established her consulting business on December 8, 2008. Just eleven days later, Sandia National Laboratories, a nuclear weapons lab in New Mexico, sent Representative Wilson a proposed contract for a $10,000-per-month consulting position.
When Wilson left Congress on January 4, 2009, she filed a congressional disclosure form stating her new position as president of Heather Wilson and Co. LLC, but made no mention of her contract with Sandia. When the Journal asked her about this partial disclosure she told them that “congressional rules required her to list only her company—not Sandia—because the company was her employer. There is no requirement to list her employer’s clients, she said.”
Perhaps the worst part of Wilson’s far too chummy relationship with the nuclear labs is yet to come. In early 2013 she was appointed by House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to be a member of an advisory panel on the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) governance of nuclear labs. The panel will make recommendations for future changes to improve performance at the NNSA. Wilson’s appointment is troubling since this agency has had such a long and disconcerting history with contractor mismanagement; the very last thing it needs is yet another contractor calling for less oversight and more money.
Coghlan told the Albuquerque Journal that, “Given the long string of chronic cost overruns and security infractions, diminished federal oversight and greater autonomy for privatized corporate nuclear weapons contractors is the wrong direction....Don’t expect Heather Wilson to help the American taxpayer correct that direction.”
Due to Wilson’s extremely questionable history with the nuclear labs, she should step down from her position on the NNSA advisory panel. Furthermore the Department of Energy Inspector General needs to make sure there is accountability in contracting. It is absolutely ludicrous to pay almost half a million taxpayer dollars to one woman who is not required to provide a single deliverable.