Donna Busche, another URS Corp. senior employee at the U.S. Energy Dept.’s Hanford nuclear waste cleanup site in Washington state, is tieing her termination from the company to safety concerns she has raised about the site’s troubled waste vitrification plant, whose design now is under review.
Busche claims that her Feb. 18 firing as URS manager of environmental and nuclear safety on the $12.3-billion plant is related to legal actions she took against the firm, a site subcontractor, and against project prime contractor Bechtel Corp., for alleged whistleblowing harassment.
According to the Tri-City Herald, Busche has lawsuits pending against the firms in federal court, contending they viewed her as a "roadblock" to meeting project deadlines.
More recently, she filed new charges with the U.S. Labor Dept., claiming an increase in retaliatory actions against her.
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who is immediate past chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee, has asked the U.S. Government Accountability Office “to investigate not only the pattern of contractor retaliation against whistleblowers at Hanford, but also DOE’s lack of response,” according to a statement.
Walter Tamosaitis, a senior URS scientist who the company terminated last year after 44 years with the firm, also has claimed the action resulted from his plant whistleblowing, which the companies have denied.
A Wyden spokesman told ENR that DOE has not yet officially responded to the committee, but that it “is looking into Busche’s firing.”
A subcommittee of the Senate Security and Government Affairs Committee held hearings on March 11 related to the "safety culture" at the vitrification plant site and issues of whistleblower retaliation, with officials from DOE, Bechtel and URS testifying.
However, Wyden blocked oral testimony from Busche and Tamosaitis, according to Tom Carpenter, executive director of Seattle-based activist group Hanford Challenge.
Their written statements were submitted to the hearing record by subcommittee Chair Sen. Claire McCaskell (D-Mo.), who held a pre-hearing session with Busche and Tamosaitis, says Carpenter.
URS says in a statement that it disagrees that Busche "suffered retaliation or was otherwise treated unfairly,” stating the firing was for “unrelated issues,” which were not disclosed.
Busche started work at the site in 2009, says the spokesman.
In its statement, URS says it "encourages its employees to raise concerns about safety, which is the company’s highest priority," but that Busche's allegations "will not withstand scrutiny" in the legal process.
But a spokesman would not comment on the status of company efforts to have her legal actions dismissed.