“Not very much.”
This was the answer that the Department of Energy Secretary, Steven Chu, recently provided when asked of the amount the federal government will be able to recover from the Solyndra bankruptcy.
“Not very much.”
The same could be said for the amount of research that the federal government has put into other companies involved in the Solyndra scandal. One such company, CH2M HILL, should be next on the House GOP radar, having used nearly $10 million in stimulus funding to design the elaborate Solyndra facility in Fremont, California. While CH2M HILL is in no danger of suffering the same bankruptcy plight, they also languish in a pool of mismanaged taxpayer funds. The firm has a history of fraud, kickbacks, violations, and cover-ups, not to mention one particular parallel with the Solyndra scandal—layoffs. This, despite receiving almost $2 billion in stimulus funding.
Why, having been awarded more than three times as much funding as Solyndra, has CH2M escaped serious scrutiny? Perhaps it is the significant donations and lobbying efforts they have doled out, targeting key Democrats in charge of the stimulus. Perhaps it is the no-bid contracts, the influence they had in shaping the stimulus, or the revolving door of employees and White House administrative positions that have allowed them to continue their dominance in procuring government funding.
Now, however, is the time to place the company that has become a consistent government favorite, under the microscope.
Why Analyze Energy Department Favorites?
Even as the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee investigates the handling of over $35 billion in stimulus funding granted to the Department of Energy (DOE) in 2009—a hearing prompted by the failed loan program that funded the now bankrupt solar panel manufacturing company, Solyndra—some fans of the administration are calling for the President to stay the ‘green jobs’ course, citing the potential to add three million more jobs through his latest bill.
President Obama is currently marketing his American Jobs Act, another $447 billion stimulus bill masquerading as a job creation program. “We can’t wait,” has become the mantra of a President and an administration desperate to see the job market reverse course. In order to better understand how money is being utilized, Republicans are trying to retrace the flow of dollars to companies that the Energy Department knew would fail, or rewarded without competition.
And it isn’t, as the President suggests, that Republicans want “dirtier air” and “dirtier water.”  It is simply that Republicans are tired of watching this administration turn taxpayer funds into dirty money.
The Department of Energy under Obama has continually thrown money into spurring economic development in the ‘green jobs’ or environmental cleanup industries. More often than not, funds rarely hit their intended target, rarely generate tangible job growth, and rarely succeed by any measure. Testimony at the recent House Oversight subcommittee hearing on the “Green Jobs Debacle,” led by Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH), bears this out. Any question as to the stimulus program’s failure to create jobs dissipated when DOE Inspector General, Gregory H. Friedman, said in testimony, “…the political push to quickly create jobs and spur economic development didn’t match up with economic realities on the ground.” A report in The Washington Post indicates that Friedman and his department have uncovered $2.3 million in stimulus fraud and sparked five criminal prosecutions within the Energy Department alone.
Elliot P. Lewis, assistant inspector general for the Labor Department added, “Green jobs have not materialized, and therefore job placements had been much less than expected.”
Companies such as Solyndra and other alternative energy/environmental investments have at best only been able to produce short-term jobs. In addition to Solyndra, two other companies working on alternative energy products—Evergreen Solar and SpectraWatt—received stimulus funding only to eventually file for bankruptcy. 
Job creation in environmental or infrastructure projects only lasts as long as the stimulus funds are available.
Solyndra had been heralded by the Obama administration as a prime example of how the Recovery Act could create new jobs while simultaneously promoting the President’s vision of renewable energy. Once a beacon of solar light in the progressive green jobs agenda, the defunct company had received a $535 million federal loan with the help of newly minted energy secretary, Steven Chu, only to find themselves staring down bankruptcy and the release of more than 1,100 workers.
But that massive loan only tells part of the story. Another company has, and continues to benefit, from cronyism, so-called job funding, and your money.
That company is CH2M HILL.
What is CH2M HILL?
CH2M HILL is a $6.3 billion consulting, engineering, and construction firm with nine business groups in over 80 countries.  CFO Magazine reports that “the Colorado-based firm is the force behind some of the world’s best-known public-works projects,” including “overseeing the construction of London’s 2012 Olympic venues, the expansion of the Panama Canal, and several of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund cleanup sites.”
In 2008, the Energy Department earmarked $6 billion for the cleanup of nuclear waste from Cold War era sites throughout the United States.  They utilized the services of the CH2M HILL Plateau Remediation Company in one of the world’s largest environmental cleanup projects—the Central Plateau on the Hanford Nuclear Site in eastern Washington.
To aide in the Hanford cleanup efforts, CH2M was a major beneficiary of the stimulus, having been awarded four of the top ten contracts. The company currently boasts of $1.961 billion in contracts from the Recovery Act, at least $1.36 billion of which was allocated for the Hanford cleanup project.
History of Problems
The DOE has a long history of funding nuclear clean-up programs, but shelling out $6 billion (more than double the typical allotment) from the stimulus to clean up 18 nuclear sites throughout the country was entering new territory. Careful measures should have been taken to avoid contractors who had experienced cost overruns, safety violations, delays, or mismanagement of public funds. Yet, in the case of CH2M HILL, the opposite has been true.
An Associated Press investigative report highlighted several past violations committed by CH2M —violations that were committed prior to the stimulus reward, including: 
- In 2004, the Energy Department withheld $300,000 from the firm for poor conduct.
- Between 2005 and 2006, the company was fined nearly $400,000 total for the radiological contamination of workers.
- A “major spill” occurred in 2007 that resulted in over $683,000 in both fines and settlements to local agencies.
Between January of 2002 and October of 2008, timecard fraud at the CH2M HILL Hanford Group was “widespread” and “routine.” A recent plea deal arranged for one employee states that “it was an accepted practice at CH2M HILL to pay hourly employees for hours claimed but not actually worked.” That employee, Carl Schroeder, claimed a total of 1,765 hours of overtime, at a cost of at least $50,000 which was billed to the federal government.
False claims and paid kickbacks at the Hanford nuclear site between 2003 and 2005 led to a recent settlement in which CH2M HILL agreed to pay the federal government $1.5 million. In this particular case, two employees made purchases from companies that they or their spouses owned, marked up the costs, and charged the DOE.
In 2006, a medical director for the Hanford site, Dr. Loren Lewis, was warning about CH2M HILL’s lack of concern regarding workers being exposed to beryllium dust. Beryllium is a by-product of the nuclear industry that, when exposed to people who are sensitive to the metal, can cause a debilitating and deadly respiratory disease. E-mails between Lewis and another doctor revealed that a Hanford employee had voiced concerns about CH2M HILL management. The employee was advising that beryllium-sensitized workers were having their protective work restrictions ignored; restrictions that were in place to protect those most prone to developing complications. One e-mail read, “The employee from yesterday came in today and had his work restriction removed. Someone needs to advised [sic] DOE that CH2M is not accommodating the new beryllium work restriction.” CH2M was openly exposing their workers to beryllium despite the obvious risks. In April of 2010, a DOE investigation into these incidents led to the dismissal of a nurse in the beryllium disease monitoring program. When Mary Sams, a head nurse at the site, tried to document the company’s attempts to remove work restrictions on an individual who may have had the disease, she was fired. This story was covered by a ProPublica report revealing concerns that a crush of hiring and a lack of training may be exposing stimulus workers to beryllium dust. 
And in 2007, Washington Closure Hanford, a company partly owned by CH2M HILL, was fined $1.1 million for “improper compaction testing methods” and for having falsified documents “intended to assure the long-term structural stability of waste disposed in the landfill. 
With all of these issues occurring prior to receiving stimulus funding, either the DOE was not performing their due diligence, or they were simply turning a blind eye.
Donations to Democrats, Lobbying, and Industry Ties
How did a company with a sketchy track record such as CH2M HILL become the lucky recipient of an exorbitant amount of taxpayer money? It turns out that certain large companies were collaborating with the Energy Department on how to spend the money, long before a stimulus had even been passed. The Washington Post reported that as far back as December of 2008, “when it became clear that Obama would introduce a huge spending bill to create jobs, Energy Department staff members began meeting with the contractors, including representatives from Bechtel National, CH2M HILL and other large firms” in an effort to begin “shaping their piece of the stimulus.” The result was a massive $6.4 billion plan that was championed by Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.). Murray lobbied for the nuclear cleanup program’s inclusion in the stimulus bill because “hundreds of acres would be removed from the nation’s ‘footprint of contamination’ and that the projects were a perfect fit for stimulus spending because they would create jobs.” CH2M dutifully rewarded Murray’s efforts with $16,000 in political contributions that same year. 
This certainly wasn’t the only example of ‘pay to play’ provided by the company. In fact, steering funds to benefit political allies may be another area in which CH2M resembles Solyndra.
A visit to the site in 2009 by Senator Maria Cantwell, Chairwoman of the Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee, promoted the nearly $2 billion in stimulus funding and predicted a glut of hiring at the Hanford site. Cantwell has received over $40,000 in campaign contributions during her career from the lobbying group, Brownstein Hyatt, a law firm that has since received over $250,000 from CH2M HILL specifically for their lobbying services.
House Energy Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) has been investigating White House dealings with the Solyndra loan, citing the administration’s monitoring of the application and loan process, along with the knowledge of a key investor for the company, George Kaiser. Kaiser is an Oklahoma billionaire, and was a major fundraiser for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008. The Kaiser connection even caught the eye of the Los Angeles Times when they asked the question point blank—“Is Obama using stimulus funds to reward his political contributors?”
CH2M HILL doesn’t necessarily have a smoking gun contributor like Kaiser. They do, however, have nearly $2 billion in total contracts generated from stimulus funding, which should generate some interest in the company’s finances. Let’s review…
During the 2009-2010 election cycles, CH2M contributed 60% of nearly $650,000 in campaign finances to Democrats. The top five total contributions were delivered to Democrats, including notable Obama allies such as the aforementioned Murray ($16,000), Barbara Boxer ($21,250) and Harry Reid ($12,500).
Years 2007-2008 also saw contributions in favor of the Democrats, with Senator Barack Obama himself receiving the most lucrative contributions at over $45,000. 
But the company isn’t just a force for political contributions. Their monetary efforts show more muscle in the lobbying field than any other, something Obama once denigrated as a presidential nominee. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that CH2M was lobbying their special interests via $455,000 worth of itemized expenditures in 2010. The main recipients were Brownstein, as discussed, and the Podesta Group.
One of the more prominent lobbyists CH2M has employed is Matthew Chiller, Senior Federal Affairs Director. Chiller, according to the National Journal, worked as Legislative Director on the staff of four different Democrats, while also serving on the recount committee in 2000 for former Vice President Al Gore. His skills can be seen in a CH2M PowerPoint presentation on how to secure state and federal funding, in which viewers are briefed on congressional earmarks, and given pointers on how to “work the earmark politically.”
Work it, they have.
Meanwhile, despite the President’s proclamation as a candidate that he “… will finally end the abuse of no-bid contracts once and for all,” and despite the specific language in the Recovery Act that demands that stimulus contracts be competitively bid “to the maximum extent possible,” the CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Company was awarded over $1 billion in non-competitive, non-fixed price contracts. The DOE website legitimizes this because the company was already under contract via a competitive process in 2008.
The Post report reiterates that “The final version of the legislation included $6 billion for nuclear cleanup, and the department said it would negotiate with current contractors, rather than conduct a lengthy competitive bidding process, to meet spending deadlines.” 
In addition to all of this, former employees of CH2M have been rewarded rather handsomely the past few years, having held, or will hold, plum appointments on administrative boards. Former CH2M HILL CTO, Dan Arvizu, is currently serving a six-year term on the National Science Board for the National Science Foundation. In 2009, Lee McIntire, current Chairman and CEO, was appointed by the Obama Administration to the U.S.-Brazil CEO Forum. In March, he joined the President on a trip to Latin America. And just recently in July, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Jack Baylis, former Senior Vice President at CH2M, to an administrative post on the National Infrastructure Advisory Council.
Perhaps most interesting may be the influence of one Robert G. Card, President of CH2M HILL’s Water and Energy Division. Card previously served as the Undersecretary of Energy for the DOE. He resigned from the position in 2004, returning to CH2M when it came to light that a $74 million program to help workers exposed to toxic chemicals, had paid just one claim of $15,000.
During his tenure at the DOE, Card managed to steer billions of dollars in nuclear waste cleanup projects to his former employer, to the point that critics in Congress were scrutinizing his ties to the industry. The New York Times reported that one of those critics, Harry Reid, questioned whether Card’s actions constituted a conflict of interest.  Reid was quoted as saying, “Until those questions are answered, the integrity of Mr. Card’s decisions will be in doubt.”
Integrity seemingly wasn’t an issue however, when, in 2009, Card’s company, recipients of billions in DOE stimulus funding yet again, was contributing $8,000 to Friends for Harry Reid. 
While White House officials have denied interjecting in deals for companies that have backed the President and his party—such as Solyndra and CH2M—questions remain as to why those most cozy with the administration have been reaping the benefits of the stimulus bill.
Of course, collaborating with, cavorting with, and rewarding radicals in the administration certainly doesn’t hurt when trying to secure stimulus funding either—especially when one of those prominent radicals helped in crafting the bill. Phil Kerpin of Americans for Prosperity had confirmed that former Obama ‘Green Energy Czar,’ Van Jones, was on the board of the Apollo Alliance, a group which helped to write the stimulus bill, and a group that Glenn Beck has said “aspires to destroy the U.S. economy by having the federal government fund green jobs scams.” One particular aspect of the bill was a $60 billion request for green jobs funding, something the Apollo Alliance lobbied for, which was included in the bill the President signed in February.
A mere month later, the Aspen Institute held an award ceremony, co-sponsored by CH2M HILL, which saw Jones accept recognition in the category of Individual Thought Leadership. Jones, in addition to taking part in the influence of the Apollo Alliance group, also served as a special adviser for green jobs at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and certainly had a role in deciding how stimulus funds were to be spent, having participated in an Economic Stimulus Summit in 2009 hosted by Vice President Joe Biden. A few months after accepting the award for individual thought, Jones was finally being exposed by various conservative media, led by blogger Trevor Loudon, as a one-time self-described communist.  He resigned from his White House special adviser position in September of that same year.
Other Van Jones/CH2M connections:
- On July 30, 2008, Jones and Lee McIntire attended an event also hosted by the Aspen Institute, called the Arctic Expedition for Climate Action.
- Jones was a keynote speaker at the Boston College Center’s 2009 International Corporate Citizenship Conference, co-sponsored by CH2M HILL. The BCCCC described Jones as, “one of the most inspirational environmental champions and social entrepreneurs in the United States.”
- Jones and Jill Sideman of CH2M both serve as members of the San Francisco Clean Tech Advisory Council.
Inflating Job Numbers
What would be the best way to stimulate the economy through the green jobs industry? Creating permanent jobs and lowering the unemployment rate? Not in the Obama administration.
August of 2010 saw the release of a Government Accountability Report (GAO) which contained some peculiar language. KTVZ, a central Oregon TV news station, reported that the Department of Energy was using “a more unorthodox methodology to inflate job creation in some of its reports.” The method, unbelievably, involved counting the number of ‘lives touched,’ and was highly touted by CH2M HILL on their website. The company was boasting of 4,547 lives touched as of March, 2010.
Additionally, the people at CH2M HILL were not shy about explaining why they, and the DOE, were using such terminology. They saw nothing wrong in inflating the numbers. A spokesperson from the CH2M HILL Plateau Remediation Company explained:
“Lives Touched” is a figure that the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) uses to track the amount of people who have been positively affected by the Recovery Act funds. This total would include people who have been provided full time employment (i.e. saved and created jobs) through the Recovery Act and people who at some point have supported a project funded by the Recovery Act.
Cameron Hardy, DOE spokesman, basically reiterated that point: 
“Lives touched” represents the cumulative number of full-time, part-time, and temporary workers that have been employed with EM Recovery Act funds at some point since the start of the program in April 2009.
To underscore the effect such smoke and mirrors terminology has on job reports, the Recovery.gov website was reporting 2,466 jobs funded at the time the ‘lives touched’ story was being revealed, a full 2,081 less than CH2M HILL was counting in their own reports. This allowed companies to brag about numbers far and above what they were actually hiring. A tidy little play on numbers, all for the Administration’s benefit.
Vice President Joe Biden has blasted Republicans for having the audacity to insinuate that the Obama jobs bill was a temporary fix.
“Let me tell you,” Biden shouted at a Public Safety Roundtable in Philadelphia, “it’s not temporary when that 911 call comes in and a woman’s being raped and a cop shows up in time to prevent the rape.”
But another similarity between companies such as Solyndra and CH2M HILL is exactly that—temporary employment. When word was received that the company’s Hanford nuclear waste branch had been awarded stimulus funding back in 2009, the celebration was on. Dee Milliken, communications officer at CH2M explained that the company quickly hired nearly 1,300 workers through a ‘job fair’ shortly thereafter.
Geoff Tyree, a DOE spokesman explained that “We were provided with the funding and we were told to create jobs.”
He added, “It was meant to stimulate the economy now.”
A report by SeattlePI.com at that time seems to contradict the urgency on display at the Hanford site. Gerry Pollet, executive director of Heart of America Northwest explained that, while the DOE was accepting stimulus funding with the intent of expediting the cleanup, they were simultaneously requesting that Washington State delay the completion date. He summarized the contradiction thusly, saying, “While we are spending $2 billion extra on accelerating cleanup, the Energy Department is insisting on relaxing enforceable schedules.”
Pollett also raised concerns about the profit margins on some of the Hanford projects, saying they were too high and were “inappropriate for stimulus money.”
Meanwhile, a Wall Street Journal report worried about what stimulating the economy now meant for the long haul, pointing out that shoveling money at nuclear-waste projects was nothing more than a short-term Band-Aid on a long-term wound. 
“… projects that employ people quickly are often considered ‘low-hanging fruit’ and can fail to set the stage for long-term economic growth.”
Sure enough, when the low-hanging fruit began to go bad, when the stimulus funding ran out for the company at the Hanford site, all of those jobs—and then some—were eliminated. Reports of staff reductions at CH2M began in January when KEPR-TV announced that 1,350 layoffs were coming in September due to the end of stimulus funding. The company had to organize a job fair for those affected by these layoffs, as well as an additional 1,000 laid off men and women at the contractor’s Hanford site. Hanford started the year with 12,000 workers but lost 2,000 positions nine months later. The News Tribune interviewed several employees who lost their jobs at the company’s Hanford cleanup site when stimulus funding dissipated, many of whom understood that their situation was indeed temporary.  Whether or not these employees have found new employment is unknown. As the Fiscal Times reports, unlike the ‘lives touched’ metric,’ there is no government organization tracking the progress of workers who have lost their jobs due to the stimulus. 
The Solyndra/CH2M Hill Relationship
Within the $535 million loan to Solyndra were a number of sub-awards to other vendors, 40 payments of which were greater than $25,000 each.  The largest sub-award went to CH2M HILL, to the tune of $9.6 million for their construction engineering services. CH2M used the nearly $10 million sub-award to design Solyndra’s solar manufacturing plant in Fremont, California. 
John Corsi, the company’s Vice President of Media and Public Relations explains, “CH2M HILL performed some design services and helped with a technical engineering report.”
When asked about the price tag, Corsi stated that, “Our rates were consistent with market rates for similar work.”
He added, “This work was secured through an open, competitive, and transparent procurement process,” a contradiction to the aforementioned Washington Post report which stated that consulting firms had essentially shaped and awarded themselves pieces of the stimulus.
With millions of dollars having been secured, CH2M clearly outdid themselves on the Solyndra project, building a facility the likes that had never been seen before in the heart of Silicon Valley. The facility covers 300,000 square feet, ran a price tag of $733 million, and was equated by some to the Taj Mahal. Bloomberg News reported on some of the extravagant amenities—amenities which might surprise for a company using taxpayer funds to maintain operations. 
“It wasn’t just any factory. When it was completed at an estimated cost of $733 million, including proceeds from a $535 million U.S. loan guarantee, it covered 300,000 square feet, the equivalent of five football fields. It had robots that whistled Disney tunes, spa-like showers with liquid-crystal displays of the water temperature, and glass-walled conference rooms.”
All on your dime.
While the company deflected any specific questions about building design, Corsi did state that, “The client (Solyndra) made all decisions regarding the final design specs.”
He added, “Any vetting of the relative merits of the project are the responsibility of the government.”
Another company that assisted CH2M Hill in the design of the Solyndra facility also declined comment. Erik Sueberkrop, of Studios Architecture, was on the design team for the manufacturing and office facility in Fremont, California.  He stated only, “As I am not at liberty to discuss, there is no comment at this time.” The Studios website meanwhile, has scrubbed detailed links to the facility’s architecture, interior, and planning links. 
While the building remained a feat of engineering, neither company saw fit to take credit now that the Solyndra scandal has broken. Each declined comment when asked to provide images or blueprints of the facility, and ignored a request to provide expense reports for the use of their stimulus money on the Solyndra project.
In the wake of several Energy Department scandals it is important to analyze how taxpayer funded projects have developed, and what mistakes were made along the way. It is not a time to rush infrastructure funding in the hopes that temporary jobs will be created in an election year; it is a time to analyze where the funding is going, who is responsible for spending it, and how they will be held accountable for their actions. It is not a time to blindly grant multi-million dollar loans to companies that administration officials know will fail; it is a time to scrutinize the potential use of every dollar so they are not wasted. It is not a time for crony capitalism, but rather a time for competent capitalism.
Perhaps the case of CH2M Hill will serve to remind our government of a commitment to be responsible and restrained with the American people’s money.
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11 Tyree, Geoff. “Backgrounder on Recovery Act Jobs Created at Hanford.” Memo. Hanford. Web. 10 Nov. 2011. <http://www.hanford.gov/news.cfm/DOE/091030BGHanfordARRAJobs.pdf>.
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53 Povich, The Fiscal Times.
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