By Jacob Marx
Lockheed Martin Corporation will pay $4.7 million to settle charges that it illegally used taxpayer dollars to lobby the government for a no bid contract extension at one of the nation’s nuclear weapons labs, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
From 2009 to 2012, Sandia Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed which manages and operates Sandia National Laboratory, lobbied Congress and high ranking government officials to close bidding on a new seven year deal. Any advocacy by the lab that was funded using taxpayer dollars would have violated the law known as the Byrd Amendment, which prohibits the use of federal funds for lobbying.
The Project On Government Oversight and Nuclear Watch New Mexico raised concerns over Lockheed’s lobbying in a 2014 letter to the Department of Energy. Among the issues raised by the two organizations, was the hiring of former U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M) and her $226,000 fee for a “contract extension strategy.” Wilson started working for Lockheed the day after she left Congress, and over the next few years earned $450,000 for lobbying on behalf of the nuclear weapons complex—a salary paid by taxpayers.
Last November, a Department of Energy Inspector General Special Inquiry into Lockheed’s lobbying called the company’s behavior “simply unacceptable… inexplicable and unjustified.”
“Given the specific prohibitions against such activity,” wrote the Inspector General, “we could not comprehend the logic of using Federal funds for the development of a plan to influence members of Congress and federal officials to, in essence, prevent competition.”
In other words, how could Sandia have done something so blatantly illegal?
The settlement, announced Friday, is a slap on the wrist for the world’s largest defense contractor, whose contract at Sandia alone is worth $2.4 billion. Lockheed has been fined over $750 million for contract mismanagement in the last decade, but continues to show little regard for the rules. For example, media reported that a Labs spokesperson called the special inquiry conclusions “allegations” rather than findings, and said, “Sandia is confident that the company and the DOE will be able to resolve these issues.”
As POGO and Nuclear Watch New Mexico wrote at the time, “Sandia Corporation does not fully recognize or accept the seriousness of its offense, and instead suggests that this extraordinary circumstance will somehow just be papered over.”
Similarly, the Inspector General noted that, “perhaps [Sandia] felt empowered because it had improperly directed Federal funds to similar activities in the past.” According to an email uncovered during the investigation, Sandia and Lockheed Martin used operating costs to help secure contract extensions in both 1998 and 2003.
Given this behavior, it stands to reason Sandia will continue taking advantage of taxpayers, especially when faced with such soft punishments. Rather than enable more abuse, the Department of Energy should recognize Lockheed cannot be trusted with the stewardship of Sandia National Lab, and bar it from managing the lab in the future.