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During the packed public meeting, the DOE, Bechtel, and URS officials began discussing the glassification project. The DOE officials included Ines Triay, DOE's nationwide cleanup czar until July 2011.
At the hearing, Busche gave the defense board a different technical answer than DOE officials on the physics of aerosol particles dispersing and falling to the ground. That angered Triay enough that she chewed out Busche afterward in a room filled with 50 URS employees, declaring that if Busche's "intent was to piss people off (with her testimony), (she) did a very good job," according to Busche's labor department complaint.
On Oct. 8, 2010, according to Busche's complaint, three high-ranking contractor officials — Frank Russo, Bechtel's glassification project manager, Leo Sain, a senior URS vice president, and Bill Gay, a URS assistant project manager — approached Busche one-by-one to ask if she would be willing to change her answer on the aerosol dispersion matter. "She understood their questions to imply she should recant her earlier testimony," Busche's complaint said. She refused.
Later, in January 2011, another of Busche's supervisors, Mike Coyle, told her "to stop putting technical and safety issues in writing to him, and to instead come to him in person with these issues, so as to avoid making a written record," her complaint read. In an interview, Busche said she believed this was to eliminate paper trails for future potential problems.
During the Tamosaitis case, In May 2011, Busche was deposed, identifying many of his technical concerns as valid.
Then in October 2011, Busche's superiors gave a "corrective action letter" for having one of her people run an errand for her while that employee was on a lunch break. She believes the letter was the start of a paperwork trail to terminate her. According to her complaint, another supervisor told Busche that "people want her fired."
"URS and (Bechtel) are currently engaged in retaliatory efforts in order to remove Ms. Busche from her assignment at URS," her complaint explained.
Meanwhile, Doss was working for WPRS in a separate part of Hanford's tank waste world, just west of the glassification complex under construction. In Hanford slang, this spot is called the "tank farms" — home to the 177 underground tanks holding 53 million gallons of nuclear waste.
Doss began as a blue-collar tank farmer worker and rose through the ranks to a professional-level safety job in WRPS's environmental permitting division. Her clashes with her superiors continued after she reached an initial settlement with the company over a 2009 complaint about being retaliated against for raising safety concerns.
Towards the end of 2010, the first of several new disputes arose. Doss argued that rainwater catchment systems in the tank farms should be put on a state wastewater discharge permit. Her superior disagreed. Later, Doss filed a complaint when she discovered that on-call supervisors were not properly logging after-hours technical incidents. Her superiors promptly removed her from her after-hours on-call supervisory duties.
Then in January 2011, Doss was assigned to supervise permitting activities for 50 to 60 underground wells in the tank farm area that collected rain and construction-related water — potentially contaminated by flowing through radioactive soil. She soon discovered that no one could physically find these wells, despite previous supervisors having reported checking them annually for at least the last 10 years. Doss' predecessor in the post refused to cooperate with her in locating the lost wells.
Doss' immediate supervisor, Jack Donnelly, instructed her to pick the brains of Hanford old-timers, but after several months, she had found only 14 of the wells. Meanwhile, Doss' complaint alleges that Donnelly told her not to include him on emails and other correspondence on the matter, and not to approach him directly on the subject. Doss believes that Donnelly wanted to create as scarce a paper trail as possible. In June 2011, Donnelly formally took away Doss's duties and responsibilities, her complaint alleged.
On Oct. 3, 2011, she was officially laid off. "It was like a gut shot," she said.
According to Doss, she was one of only two employees laid off from her 30-40 person section and only five of her co-workers had more than 10 years of experience. Doss believed she had the second-most seniority.
In a written statement released April 28, the WPRS said that it disagreed with Doss' allegations and will contest them before the labor department. "Each WRPS employee is empowered and encouraged to raise safety and other workplace concerns," the statement said. "Ms. Doss was one of 244 employees who were laid off by WRPS in the fall of 2011 to align its employment level with project work scope and federal funding. Ms. Doss' raising of safety or environmental concerns was not a factor in her selection for lay-off."
Both Bechtel and WPRS declined to speak in detail about Busche and Doss' allegations, citing ongoing litigation. Bechtel, URS, and DOE took similar stances when questioned in the past on Tamosaitis' claims.
Critics contend that the frequent turnover in top DOE and contractor officials — along with contracts with few, if any, penalties for mistakes — have created a culture that encourages turning a blind eye to bad news.
According to Tomasaitis, top officials at Hanford spend only two to four years at the site before moving elsewhere to continue their careers. Bechtel's Hanford operation has had five managers since 2001, according to Carpenter. That trend creates pressure for managers to look good while they are there, but makes it impossible to hold anyone accountable for the long-term consequences of taking design and safety shortcuts, which usually only appear after managers have moved on.
Tom Carpenter has been a long-time lawyer for Hanford whistleblowers, including all three of the current complainants. "There is no continuity there or in the Department of Energy," he said.
"We look at Hanford as an accountability-free zone," said Carpenter. "It doesn't matter how many screw-ups there are, there is always more money [to tackle the fix-it work]. They have contracts that don't actually penalize them for messing up." Carpenter cited a recent federal inspector general's report that reported that the DOE did not try to get Bechtel to refund $15 million for paid work that the contractor could not prove had been done properly.
As Busche describes it, Hanford contractors can make mistakes, watch costs rise, and see schedules delayed — and still be paid extra to tackle the fix-it work.
"There is no penalty for a contractor being wrong," she explained.
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