The prime contractor for a large nuclear waste cleanup at the U.S. Energy Dept.’s Hanford site in Washington has agreed to pay $3.2 million to resolve allegations that it violated federal law linked to small business subcontracts, the U.S. Justice Dept. said June 7.

Two other Hanford firms agreed last year to pay $2.3 million to settle the claim, bringing the total payment to $5.5 million, part of which will go to whistleblowers.

Washington Closure Hanford (WCH), made up of AECOM, Bechtel National and CH2M Hill, now a unit of Jacobs Engineering, won a contract in 2005 to remediate waste in the Columbia River corridor at Hanford, once the key U.S. plutonium production site. Its $2.9-billion contract for work, which was completed in 2016, required WCH to use small business subcontractors. 

Joseph Harrington, the U.S. Attorney in Spokane, said the case stems from a whistleblower complaint filed by Hanford-based small business Savage Logistics LLC and its owner Salina Savage, who unsuccessfully bid on two contracts. The Justice Dept. said WCH, as well as site contractors Federal Engineers & Constructors and Sage Tec—the latter claiming to be a legitimate woman-owned small business—violated the False Claims Act by misrepresenting Sage Tec as able to win two multimillion-dollar subcontracts reserved for small disadvantaged firms.

Sage Tec, in fact, was a pass-through front company for FE&C, which performed substantially all work on the remediation subcontracts, the Justice Dept.  said. WCH violated the law by falsely claiming payment for a small business under its cost-plus-incentive-fee contract, the department added.

The settlement, which has not yet been made public, allows WCH to close out its contract with DOE and dissolve the company, Peter Bengtson, a spokesman, told ENR. Last August. the court expanded the damages for Savage beyond the specified contract limit to include the lost value of the business and experience. The whistleblowers will receive $643,000 as a result of the settlement.