Fernald investigation widens

Nuclear site supervision to be probed nationwide


BY MIKE GALLAGHER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A federal agency investigating financial wrongdoing and safety concerns at Fernald will expand its probe to the Department of Energy's supervision of its contractors nationwide, congressional leaders said.

The General Accounting Office (GAO) also will investigate the Energy Department policy that led to private employees at nuclear cleanup sites nationwide receiving more than $500 million in taxpayer-financed severance buyouts since 1993.

''We are very pleased that the GAO has quickly begun its investigation of not only the problems identified at Fernald, but will now expand this probe to a national level,'' said U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio.

Mr. DeWine and other lawmakers called for the GAO probe 10 days ago, after The Enquirer published a four-day investigative series about problems at Fernald, the former weapons plant in northwest Hamilton County.

Victor Rezendes, the GAO's director of Energy Resources & Science Issues, and James Noel, Mr. Rezendes' assistant director, met Thursday with the staffs of Ohio's U.S. senators, Mr. DeWine and John Glenn, and Rep. Rob Portman, R-Cincinnati, to discuss how they will conduct the investigation.

Mr. DeWine said the investigators expect to begin obtaining documents and interviewing current and former employees at Fernald Environmental Restoration Management Co. (FERMCO), and its parent company, Fluor Daniel of Irvine, Calif., in early March. Fluor Daniel - FERMCO received a five-year, $2.2 billion Energy Department contract in 1992 to manage the cleanup of Fernald.

''They (Mr. Rezendes and Mr. Noel) said they expect to get fully under way in early March,'' Mr. DeWine said. ''Overall, the GAO has assured us that they intend to conduct a complete and comprehensive investigation at Fernald,'' he said. ''Expanding this probe on a national basis regarding (Energy Department) oversight of its contractors will only help ensure the Fernald investigation will be full and thorough.''

Mr. Glenn was unavailable for comment Thursday night.

DANGER & DECEIT


In a four-part series that began Feb. 11, The Enquirer reported that the Fernald cleanup has been marred by unauthorized spending, misuse of charge accounts, phony cost and performance reports, excessive travel expenses, questionable severance packages for private employees and workplace safety concerns.

Published Feb. 23, 1996.