No Reward For Hanford Cost-Saving Idea Engineer Loses To Department Of Energy; Says Suit ‘Has Made My Life Miserable’
A former Hanford engineer who developed an idea that helped save taxpayers millions of dollars has lost his bid for a reward.
A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by Clark Hodge of Kennewick against the U.S. Department of Energy seeking $14 million in compensation for the idea.
“Yeah, I’m disappointed,” Hodge said Thursday. “I wish I’d never brought this suit.
“It has made my life miserable. It cost me my career and a lot of money and time.”
In 1994, Hodge was among several Hanford workers who spoke out publicly in The Spokesman-Review’s “Wasteland” series about wasted money in the massive cleanup of the former nuclear weapons production site.
“We’ve spent billions and billions and we haven’t gotten anything,” Hodge said in 1994. “Everyone should be embarrassed. Everyone I know is.”
In 1995, after a demotion and a negative performance review - the first in his 22-year career- Hodge chose early retirement over being laid off.
Although Hodge has 30 days to appeal U.S. District Judge Frem Nielsen’s ruling, he says he doesn’t intend to pursue his case further.
At issue was whether Hodge could be rewarded for helping develop an idea that led to construction of an 80-foot-deep hole in the ground - a $65 million project called the Environmental Restoration and Disposal Facility.
A cost-saving reward program known as ECCEL was set up by the Westinghouse Hanford Co., the former site contractor at Hanford, to reward employees with bonuses if they came up with money-saving ideas for the nuclear cleanup project.
But the program wasn’t meant to provide huge bonuses and the maximum reward was intended to be $2,500, the company has said.
Hodge was an engineer for Westinghouse when he helped develop the concept. He argued he should have been entitled to a large incentive bonus, which in his original lawsuit he set at $14 million.
The trench will hold about 30 million cubic yards of low-level solid wastes from decades of production of plutonium for nuclear weapons.
The original plan was to dig a series of trenches, with each holding a different kind of waste. Hodge and some others came up with a plan that allowed only one trench to be dug. That saved ground space, the costs of leakproof liners and other construction costs.
Over its 30-year life, the facility is expected to cut cleanup costs by $686 million.
“Hodge cannot establish an ownership interest” in the project, the court ruled.
The decision was good news to Energy Department attorney Paul Davis in Richland.
“In a nutshell, the court ruled that whether he developed the idea or not is legally beside the point, because employees of Hanford contractors don’t own the ideas they develop for their employers,” Davis said.
Westinghouse Hanford Co. is still a defendant in a similar lawsuit filed by Hodge in Benton County Superior Court.
“There were several tricky, intricate intellectual property issues,” Davis said. “There was a lot at stake.”