Political reaction

Portman, Chabot demand probes


BY TIM BONFIELD and MIKE GALLAGHER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Two area Congressmen called Sunday for an independent investigation into a multi-million-dollar financial scandal at Fernald re-vealed by The Enquirer.

U.S. Rep. Rob Portman, R-Cincinnati, said Sunday he wants both a congressional investigation and an independent probe of Fluor Daniel Corp. and its subsidiary, Fernald Environmental Restoration Management Corp. (FERMCO). Mr. Portman also wants the investigators to probe reported lapses in the U.S. Department of Energy's oversight of the project.

Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Cincinnati, said there should be an independent investigation of the questions raised about the Fernald cleanup, with criminal prosecution if warranted. He also called for the firing of Energy Secretary Hazel R. O'Leary.

The Enquirer on Sunday published the first installment of a four-day series of articles about financial mismanagement and safety concerns at the site 18 miles northwest of Cincinnati. Mr. Portman, whose district includes Fernald, said the revelations ''were very disturbing.'' Mr. Portman said his staff also has uncovered information about problems at Fernald. Mr. Portman said he already has talked about the investigations with officials of the House Subcomittee on Government Reform and Oversight. He characterized what his staff has found as ''taxpayers' money being wasted.'' He declined to elaborate.

Mr. Chabot said, ''The Enquirer has raised very significant issues regarding fraud and mismanagement of taxpayer money.'' As for Secretary O'Leary, Mr. Chabot said, ''She can't go too soon as far as I'm concerned.''

In a press release Sunday, Fluor Daniel - FERMCO ''categorically'' denied questions of wrongdoing raised by The Enquirer's investigation.

Meanwhile, Jack Craig, the Energy Department's chief at Fernald, said the department is conducting an internal audit of the operations but has not yet completed the review.

The Energy Department has scheduled a press conference for this afternoon to address questions raised about Fernald.

Others who have been involved with the history of Fernald said the latest reports reflect a wider problem about how well the Energy Department manages the cleanup of nuclear weapons sites.

Cincinnati attorney Stan Chesley, who has locked horns with the Energy Department and previous Fernald contractor NLO Inc. in two class action lawsuits, said, ''It is outrageous. But frankly this does not surprise me in the least.''

''They are the only government agency I know that doesn't audit their contractors,'' Mr. Chesley said.

Published February 12, 1996.