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Hanford whistleblower says layoff was retribution

KENNEWICK – Hanford whistleblower Walter Tamosaitis was laid off last week after 44 years of employment with URS Corp., he said.

Three years ago he lost his position as research and technology manager for the $12.2 billion Hanford vitrification plant but continued to be employed at URS.

When he was removed from the vitrification plant project, he asked the Defense Nuclear Facilities Board to investigate, saying that safety and design concerns were being suppressed at the plant.

He believes he was dismissed from the project for persisting in raising concerns about the future safe operations of the plant, as much of a $6 million payment to contractors on the project was on the line, according to court documents. However, Bechtel National and URS, its main subcontractor, say his work was ending and he was dismissed for writing a disrespectful email.

To receive 26 weeks of severance pay from URS after being laid off, Tamosaitis is required to sign a document releasing URS from any liability, he said. But he has appeals pending after lawsuits against Bechtel, URS and the Department of Energy were dismissed before going to trial.

DOE has made provisional payments of $952,673 through September 2012 to pay for outside attorneys to defend URS in the lawsuit filed by Tamosaitis. In addition, Bechtel has been reimbursed $144,917 through September 2011.

Tamosaitis said Friday that 130 people in his working group were considered for layoffs and five were picked. He was the only worker based in Richland, he said.

“While we will not comment on specific matters, in recent months URS has reduced employment levels in our federal sector business due to budgetary constraints,” URS said in a statement. “URS encourages its employees to raise any concerns about safety, which remains the company’s highest priority.”

Three years after Tamosaitis was removed from his leadership position at the vitrification plant, he said he has no regrets, despite leading no major projects since then.