SANTA FE – Los Alamos National Laboratory Deputy Director Beth Sellers, the second-highest ranking administrator at the lab, has resigned over failure to properly report a potential conflict of interest when a relative of hers, apparently her husband, received a lab consulting contract in 2012.
The resignation of Sellers, whose compensation for the 2012-13 fiscal year was $335,834, follows an investigation by the Department of
Energy’s Inspector General that substantiated allegations of conflict of interest involving a senior female manager at the lab and a consultant married to that manager.
A lab spokesman said he was not authorized to say whether Sellers was the focus of the investigation, but the facts outlined in the IG’s report dovetail with a statement she released on Friday.
On Friday, the lab issued statements from both Sellers and LANL Director Charlie McMillan.
“You may soon read news coverage about an issue involving the Laboratory,” Sellers stated in a message to lab employees. “A family member of mine was awarded a consulting agreement with the Lab in the fall of 2012. At the time, this was not properly disclosed for full evaluation of potential conflict of interest. I realized this mistake several months later and immediately requested a review from Lab Counsel and Audits and Ethics.”
She went on to say she realized the matter would be a distraction for the lab.
“This is unacceptable to me as a Laboratory leader, so I have decided to voluntarily step down,” she said.
According to documents provided to the Journal by the Los Alamos Monitor, the consultant who was the focus of the inspector general’s report was to serve as the LANL “Technology Transfer Point of Contact for Regional Technology Infrastructure.”
The investigation found that neither the senior manager to whom the consultant is married nor her husband disclosed their spousal relationship prior to his being awarded the consulting “agreement” in 2012, and it wasn’t until five months later that the senior manager reported the relationship to LANL ethics officials.
Nothing in the investigation documents indicates the total amount the lab manager’s spouse was to be paid. It did find that the consultant performed work prior to the agreement being signed and that hours were charged for work that was not performed.
The memo from the DOE Inspector General states that $23,100 was paid to the consultant and that Los Alamos National Security, the private consortium that runs the lab under contract with the federal government, reimbursed the government for that amount.
The investigation also found that $4,700 was paid to the consultant prior to the agreement being awarded.
“Subsequently, LANS determined that the consultant agreement did not conform to prescribed LANL procedures and processes,” the memo states.
It was also found that the consultant charged for two hours “for a discussion on environmental matters that never took place” and which was instead visit to the Santa Fe Opera.
In early February, the lab issued a statement acknowledging the breach.
“When our ethics office became aware of this consulting contract and reviewed the facts, the Lab found the arrangement did not comply with internal policies relating to contracts with near relatives of employees,” the statement read.
“As a result, the contract was terminated and the government was reimbursed. Since then, the Lab has put in place a new process to help ensure compliance with policies for consulting agreements.”
The document states that a federal official was asked about a meeting that allegedly took place on Aug. 24, 2012. He said that what really happened was that he and his wife attended the opera with the consultant and his wife that night, but that no business was discussed. He also said that he was not aware that the consultant had an agreement with LANL at that time.
McMillan, in his statement Friday, he accepted Sellers’ resignation with regret.
“I do this so that the Lab can move quickly past any institutional distractions and continue to deliver on our mission,” he said. “I thank Beth for her service to the Laboratory and the nation. Her contributions will be missed, especially her energy and passion for the Laboratory mission and her deep interest in the Lab’s people.”
Sellers was named deputy director at LANL in October in 2011. She had been a senior vice president at AREVA Federal Services in Bethesda, Md.