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Federal report questions Wilson contract with labs

Several national labs including Los Alamos and Sandia appear to have improperly used federal funds to pay former Rep. Heather Wilson about $450,000 to lobby the federal government to expand lab funding by luring new projects, according to a federal inspector general’s report released today.

The use of Department of Energy funds by the labs to lobby the federal government to increase lab funding, known by the labs as “business development,” is prohibited.

“Despite these prohibitions, our examination of relevant documents at both Sandia and Los Alamos tend to indicate such activities did occur,” the report says.

Wilson established Heather Wilson and Company, LLC, to work as a lab contractor between 2009 and 2011. Wilson suspended her contract work for the labs before her unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate in 2012 that she lost to then-Rep. Martin Heinrich.

Sandia justified a no-bid contract for Wilson, who represented central New Mexico as a Republican in Congress between 1998 and 2009, citing the need for “… high-level connections and critical engagement with key individuals,” the report says. Sandia hired Wilson in January 2009, the same month she left Congress.

The report also says it found no evidence that work performed by Wilson under contracts with the labs was completed, although the payments to Wilson made by the labs were reimbursed by the federal government.

In total, Wilson was paid more than $226,000 from Sandia, nearly $196,000 by Los Alamos and about $30,000 by the Nevada National Security Site and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Wilson in a statement today said the work completed complied with the contracts she signed.

“The report confirms that the labs were satisfied with my work,” Wilson said. “The work was done in full compliance with the contracts we signed and under the direct supervision of lab sponsors.”

Wilson in April was named president of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. Following her hire, university leaders praised her ability to work with the federal government to attract new federal funding to the university. Wilson starts the position this month.

The inspector general’s report said the Department of Energy had been reimbursed more than $442,000 of the money it paid the labs on behalf of Wilson.

The report goes on to say the Department of Energy should consider additional penalties for Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories “because of the overt nature of Sandia and Los Alamos’ actions and their failure to fully comply with federal direction in this case.”