UPDATE 11:27 A.M.: This article has been updated to reflect the fact that the official in question is a DOE contractor, not an employee of the department.
The Department of Energy awarded a sole-source contract to a DOE contractor’s husband, who did not disclose the conflict of interest and billed taxpayers for time spent at the opera, according to agency watchdogs.
The department’s inspector general publicly released an audit report on Tuesday that substantiated conflict of interest allegations and found a number of improper billings by the contractor, who was not identified by name in the report.
The IG faulted the DOE contractor, a manager at the department’s Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), her husband, and other LANL officials who were aware of their relationship for failing to disclose the conflict of interest despite ethics rules requiring it.
The contractor went on to bill LANL for thousands of dollars in expenses for consulting work performed before the contract was actually awarded.
He also billed taxpayers for a two-hour discussion with an unnamed federal official that never actually took place. The contractor, his DOE-employed wife, and the contractor were actually attending a performance at the Santa Fe Opera.
The thousands in overbilled charges came through a contract that may have been unfairly awarded, as neither the contractor nor his wife notified procurement officials of their relationship.
"The consultant did not disclose his spousal relationship with the senior LANL manager at the time of award," the report found.
The LANL procurement process requires that applicants with family members who "own, control, or have Significant Financial Interest in the Offeror’s organization" mark contract application documents accordingly.
The documents warn that the presence of a conflict "may necessitate rejection of your offer."
The contractor failed to disclose the relationship.
"In addition, the senior manager did not notify LANL ethics officials or her superior of a potential conflict of interest involving her spouse's consulting agreement until 5 months after the consultant agreement was awarded," the IG noted.
At least one other LANL employee knew the manager and contractor were married, the IG noted, but failed to take any corrective actions despite having "the opportunity to provide supplemental information in response to a series of questions regarding the consultant's activities, including questions on preferential treatment and influence."
LANL put out its solicitation request in July 2012, the IG noted. The contract was awarded on Sept. 11 of that year.
However, the contractor submitted invoices for $4,700 in work supposedly performed before the contract was even awarded. The contractor thought that was appropriate, he told the IG, though LANL acknowledged that it was not.
"The issues identified in this report occurred, in part, because a LANL official who sponsored the consultant agreement failed to recognize and address apparent conflict of interest issues," the IG found.
LANL said it is implementing corrective actions recommended by the IG’s office and "will engage in ongoing oversight to evaluate the sustained effectiveness of these actions."