Source: Rapid City Journal | Tom Griffith | August 25, 2015
The managers of one of the nation’s premier federal laboratories have agreed to pay nearly $4.8 million to settle allegations of improperly using taxpayer funds to influence members of Congress and others to extend the lab’s $2.4 billion annual management contract.
Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico issued a statement Monday saying the lab’s management agreed to settle with the U.S. Department of Justice to “put the matter behind us, take action on what we learned and focus on our important national security mission.”
Contrary to assertions in the Washington Post, a former New Mexico U.S. representative and current South Dakota School of Mines & Technology President Heather Wilson says she did not lobby members of Congress or Department of Energy officials to keep Lockheed Martin Corp.’s contract to operate the Sandia National Laboratories.
“The Washington Post did not ask me for a comment and there are a number of inaccuracies in their story,” Wilson said by email Monday afternoon. “I have not sought to correct them.”
The settlement was announced on Friday. Sandia Corp., a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin, runs the lab. According to reports, Lockheed Martin will pay the settlement from the fee it was paid by the federal government for running the lab in Albuquerque.
A report last fall by Department of Energy Inspector General Gregory H. Friedman alleged that Sandia Corp. devised a complex strategy to “campaign aggressively” with congressional leaders, top Obama administration advisers and then-DOE Secretary Stephen Chu to extend Sandia’s no-bid contract for operating two laboratories in New Mexico and California that together employ nearly 10,000 people.
The extension requested was for seven years.
The Post also reported that Lockheed executives, who hired Wilson to help them, lobbied federal officials to close the bidding to competition. Friedman said, “Using public funds to lobby for a non-competitive extension of a contract is simply unacceptable.”
The Post article alluded to the probe last fall that linked Wilson’s consulting firm and two unnamed former employees of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees the nuclear labs. Wilson’s company, Heather Wilson LLC, gave explicit guidance to the Sandia team on how to influence the most important people in Washington who would decide whether Lockheed’s contract would be renewed, the Post stated.
A redacted excerpt of a memo, which the Post asserted was “from guidance that former New Mexico Representative Heather Wilson gave Lockheed Martin officials,” provided specific lobbying strategies for the Lockheed-Martin cause.
But Wilson said she did not write the memo.
“As background, the heavily redacted notes that the Washington Post includes on their website are apparently an unidentified Lockheed-Martin employee’s notes of a conversation with me,” Wilson said via email. “Those notes are not mine. Interestingly, the notes confirm that I advised that contract extension matters be handled by Lockheed-Martin, not Sandia, which is the same position taken by the DOE Inspector General.”
As she contended last fall, Wilson reaffirmed Monday that she didn’t conduct lobbying activities on behalf of Sandia.
“The review found no instances at all of any contact by me with any Congressional or Executive branch officials concerning the Sandia contract,” she wrote. “That’s because there were none. I was not a lobbyist for Sandia and I was not a member of the ‘Contract Strategy Team’ criticized in the report that led to this settlement. Indeed, I am not even mentioned in the settlement. I am not surprised that Sandia and the government settled this matter without any admission of wrongdoing.”
While the Post has repeatedly claimed Wilson directed the Lockheed Martin lobbying effort, the School of Mines president, hired in 2013 by the South Dakota Board of Regents, said in her email: “Far from the Justice Department statement on (the) settlement singling me out, their statement does not even mention me.”
“The original DOE report redacted everyone else’s name, but not mine,” Wilson added. “I would assume that, as a former public official, they felt less constrained as I enjoy fewer privacy protections.”