DeWine tours Fernald, will frame probe

The Cincinnati Enquirer

U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine toured the troubled Fernald nuclear cleanup site Thursday and then announced he would meet with federal investigators next week to discuss their probe into Enquirer reports of financial mismanagement and safety concerns there.

Mr. DeWine, R-Ohio, announced that he and fellow Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio, and their respective staffs, would meet with U.S. General Accounting Office investigators ''to try and frame the parameters of this investigation.

''It is very important that a full and complete independent investigation be conducted here,'' Mr. DeWine said. ''This (Fernald) is an extremely complex operation . . . and the allegations of wrongdoing are also very complex.''

Mr. DeWine said Enquirer reports about safety concerns at the site and financial improprieties by the Fernald Environmental Restoration Management Co. (FERMCO), and its parent company, Fluor Daniel of Irvine, Calif., ''were very disturbing'' and warranted independent probes.

Mr. DeWine and Mr. Glenn's planned meeting with the GAO comes on the heels of a call earlier this week by U.S. Rep. Rob Portman, R-Cincinnati, for the GAO probe and congressional sub-committee hearings on The Enquirer findings.

The newspaper found that Fluor Daniel - FERMCO:

Provided the U.S. Department of Energy with inflated cost estimates and performance reports.

Performed unauthorized work.

Got millions of dollars from the government simply by turning in unsubstantiated invoices.

Charged the government millions of dollars through the use of improperly set up control accounts and charge numbers.

Allowed employees to accept a deal with the Energy Department that cost taxpayers about $13 million in severance packages for FERMCO's private employees. The plan was set up ostensibly to help the Energy Department save money by reducing the workforce at Fernald. But no savings have been realized yet at Fernald and the Energy Department made the payments despite the fact that most of those private employees already were set to be dismissed by FERMCO within one to four months.

In a related development, FERMCO spokesman Jack Hoopes denied reports that FERMCO supervisors on Wednesday told subcontractors working on construction of a pilot plant at the site to stay home Thursday and then return on Friday.

The Enquirer received calls from three men Thursday morning identifying themselves as workers assigned to the pilot plant, which company officials say will one day test a process that involves encapsulating nuclear waste in glass. The men said they were told to stay home Thursday because of Mr. DeWine's tour.

The Enquirer contacted Gene Branham, vice president of the Fernald Atomic Trades & Labor Council, who confirmed that he had received the same reports from his union members.

But Mr. Hoopes denied the reports after saying he checked with company officials. ''It was business as usual (Thursday) at the pilot plant.''

Published Feb. 16, 1996.