BY MIKE GALLAGHER
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Sixteen thousand dollars of taxpayers' money was wasted at Fernald after the company managing the site had employees affix large, bar-code security stickers to their car windows and then later learned they violated state law.
About 4,000 stickers - at $4 each - were rendered useless after Fluor Daniel Fernald officials recently discovered that the 3--by-4-inch stickers placed on their employees' passenger-side car windows were illegal because they would obstruct the view of police officers.
U.S. Department of Energy officials at Fernald said they were aware of the problem. ''The matter is being discussed and a decision will be made probably in a few weeks on whether this was an avoidable cost,'' said Gary Stegner, Energy Department spokesman at Fernald.
If Energy Department officials find Fluor Daniel Fernald was negligent and should have been more diligent in checking the legality of using the stickers, the company can be ordered to repay the $16,000 in taxpayer-paid costs.
Fluor Daniel Fernald spokeswoman Tricia Thompson said the bar-code stickers were part of an expanded security system being implemented at Fernald, the former uranium-processing plant 18 miles northwest of Cincinnati.
Ms. Thompson said company officials checked with police and sheriffs' departments in Butler and Hamilton counties who advised them that the stickers, their size and placement on car windows were legal.
However, Ms. Thompson said, no one at the company called the Ohio State Highway Patrol to check on the legality of the stickers and their use on employees' vehicles.
State Highway Patrol officials told The Enquirer the stickers, because of their size, would violate state law because they would pose a danger to police officers by obstructing their view into stopped vehicles.
Fernald employees stopped by police would have received traffic citations and fines for using the stickers, they said.
The U.S. Department of Energy - at the request of Fluor Daniel Fernald - paid for the $60,550 bar-code security system, which included the coded stickers and bar-code readers.
The system was designed to allow employees to drive past a security shed housing a bar-code scanner.
Visitors would no longer be allowed to drive up and park onsite without being stopped and checked, Ms. Thompson said.
''With this new system, guards would now be freed up to increase their patrols around the site,'' she added. ''The idea behind this was to increase the security for the employees.''
But when the bar-code stickers were first handed out in February, scores of Fluor Daniel Fernald employees had aesthetic and safety concerns. Several who telephoned The Enquirer, also questioned the legality of the stickers.
In an interview earlier this week, Ms. Thompson told The Enquirer that the company had checked with law enforcement and the bar-code stickers were legal.
Asked why company employees this week were told they could remove the stickers from their vehicle windows, Ms. Thompson said, ''Many employees were upset about having to use those stickers. In consideration of our employees, we decided to take a step back and take another look at this issue and in the interim, allow them to remove the stickers.''
In a follow-up interview Wednesday, Ms. Thompson told The Enquirer that, after further review, the real reason employees were told to remove their stickers was because the company learned they violated state law.
Asked whether Fluor Daniel Fernald intended to reimburse the Energy Department for the $16,000 cost, Ms. Thompson said, ''I'm sure that will be discussed in the near future.''
Ms. Thompson added that the remaining $44,550 cost of the bar-code security equipment would not be wasted as it would be used for inventory control and tracking of train cars used to ship waste from the site.
The inspector general's office is auditing similar problems by the company and Energy Department officials at Fernald for 1994 and 1995 and is expected to launch a 1996 audit upon completion of those.
Noting the financial abuses at Fernald that were initially
discovered during an earlier interim audit, the inspector general found that Fluor Daniel Fernald:
Officials at the Energy Department's Ohio Field Office declined to comment on their lack of oversight of Fluor Daniel Fernald's overcharges, and only noted that the company had repaid the improper costs.
- Allowed family members' per diem payments to exceed the government-approved amount.
- Violated Energy Department rules by allowing employees to ship such things as a boat, travel trailer and recreational vehicle and repaying the charges with government funds.
- Improperly charged the government for reimbursement of title insurance costs to employees who claimed them as home-selling expenses.
- Charged the government for reimbursement of shipping costs for household goods for which no receipts were maintained.
- Discovered the company had inadvertently billed the Energy Department twice for the same service.
A Fluor Daniel Fernald response, faxed to The Enquirer, said, in part:
''Fluor Daniel Fernald welcomes the IG reviews as a measure to help us comply with all applicable government regulations. As the January 1997 IG report points out, Fluor Daniel Fernald has implemented corrective actions. We have clarified written policies to all team members to gain tighter control over relocation and travel costs.''
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