TACOMA - A Senate committee is investigating the impact of political ties and campaign donations on the award of a $5 billion management contract at the Hanford nuclear reservation, the News Tribune of Tacoma reported today.
The Energy Department's former nuclear weapons complex is undergoing cleanup, following a half century of plutonium production.
The five-year contract was awarded Aug. 6, 1996, to a group headed by Fluor Daniel, a subsidiary of Fluor of Irvine, Calif., over groups led by Raytheon of Lexington, Mass., and Bechtel Group of San Francisco.
Neither Bechtel nor Raytheon challenged the award at the time.
Now, though, the department has provided more than 20 boxes of material to the Senate Government Affairs Committee, at least five including files from Hanford, the Tacoma newspaper reported.
The committee's focus is on Fluor, previously hired to manage a smaller nuclear site cleanup in Fernald, Ohio, and some contracts held by Molten Metal Technology of Waltham, Mass., according to the News Tribune.
Federal Election Commission records show numerous contributions from department contractors to the Democratic National Committee, some made close to the time they landed big contracts.
Fluor Daniel, for example, contributed $100,000 weeks before the Hanford contract award.
In addition, lawyers from the Senate panel have taken depositions from two former congressional aides to Vice President Al Gore - Peter Knight, a lobbyist who managed the Clinton-Gore re-election campaign, and Tom Grumbly, assistant secretary of energy for environmental cleanup.
After the campaign, Knight returned to lobbying. His clients included Fluor, Molten Metal and Lockheed Martin of Bethesda, Md.
Lockheed gave the Democrats $100,000 weeks before decisions were scheduled on three major contracts in which the company had a stake.
One was the renewal of a management contract worth as much as $40 million a year at Oak Ridge, Tenn.
Lockheed also was part of the Fluor Daniel's Hanford team and had joined Molten Metal in pursuing a Hanford project that could ultimately be worth $4 billion for conversion of the most dangerous radioactive wastes into glass-like logs for long-term storage.
Lockheed got the Oak Ridge contract extension, the Fluor team won the Hanford contract, and Lockheed and Molten Metals received a $27 million contract to work on a vitrification plant.
The committee wants to know about any contacts between department officials and Bruce Lindsey, special counsel to the president, and Harold Ickes, former White House chief of staff, the newspaper reported.
The Hanford decision was strongly defended by department and Fluor officials. Susan Brechbill, the agency's general counsel at Hanford and head of a committee that recommended Fluor Daniel, said some federal officials offered "guidance and support," but denied there was any influence-peddling.