BY MAIRE O’NEILL
A Department of Energy Inspector General’s Office report on the use of grant money by the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities recommends that the RCLC reimburse DOE with some $300,000 it received in grant funds between Sept. 30, 2015 and June 30, 2018.
The report states that the grant was for the RCLC to evaluate policy initiatives and legislative impacts on its members.
The inspection was initiated after the IG obtained information indicating that the RCLC may have misspent DOE grant funds. The objective of the investigation was to determine if the RCLC properly accounted for and used DOE grant funding in accordance with federal requirements and the terms of the grant agreement, and whether the DOE’s oversight was effective. The investigation revealed that the DOE funds were co-mingled with funds received from other sources and that the RCLC subsequently engaged in activities prohibited by the U.S. Code and the terms of the grant agreement.
Because of the co-mingling the RCLC could not demonstrate how the DOE funds were used and the IG was unable to determine the extent to which the RCLC spent DOE funds on unallowable expenses.
The report found that the RCLC’s 2011 Joint Powers Agreement did not provide guidance to ensure that Los Alamos County, as the fiscal agent, developed polices and procedures to prevent co-mingling of funds. This resulted in lack of financial and technical oversight of the grant by Emergency Management’s CBC and others and in unclear guidance directing the roles and responsibilities of Los Alamos County.
Additionally, the report found that the RCLC engaged in multiple ongoing lobbying activities throughout the grant period.
“The RCLC was not prohibited from performing lobbying activities, however it was expressly prohibited from expending DOE funds on lobbying activities,” the report stated.
The report said Los Alamos County officials acknowledged the comingling of funds and that RCLC never informed them it was required to implement stricter financial controls. When this issue was raised with RCLC representatives including current and former treasurers, the report said RCLC representatives stated they relied on Los Alamos County as the fiscal agent to implement appropriate accounting controls.
“RCLC, not its fiscal agent, was responsible for ensuring compliance and it failed to do so,” the report said.
The report noted that a 2017 list of RCLC accomplishments included “RCLC has positioned itself as sole consistent lobbying group for legacy waste cleanup dollars into LANL at the Congressional level”. It noted that the RCLC states that the RCLC is a “conduit for Northern New Mexico communities to make a direct impact on local, state and federal government decision making in regional economic development and nuclear cleanup at LANL”. It said the RCLC reported it engaged in multiple other lobbying activities including legislative liaising, analyzing the effect of legislation and other activities that appear to be aimed at attempting to influence congressional action.
“Two officers state they ‘wouldn’t argue that the RCLC lobbied’ and that ‘the actions speak for themselves’”, the report said.
It noted that unallowable costs included alcohol beverages, entertainment costs including “amusement, diversion and social activities, gas, and service costs for personal use”. It referred to the audit performed by the State Auditor’s Office last year which showed that $780.22 had been spent for meals, alcoholic beverages or entertainment on behalf of the board members; $5,799.69 reimbursed to the former executive director for meal and drink expenses; and a $2,639.90 reimbursement to entities linked to the RCLC for alcoholic beverages, personal expenses and entertainment/recreation expenses.
The report indicates that the RCLC was required to submit quarterly reports for the grant but that no record could be found of the RCLC submitting those reports or the contracting officer requesting them. It notes that an individual was appointed as the Technical Monitor for the agreement but that the person was not clear on their oversight responsibilities, had not seen the grant and was not sure if he had seen any financial reports.
Meanwhile, a news release from the RCLC Wednesday, presumably written by executive director Eric Vasquez reads as follows:
“The RCLC is pleased to see the Department of Energy Inspector General report issued and is working with the Department of Energy to provide them with the information they need to complete this process. The RCLC looks forward to continuing to represent our local communities to the Washington leadership who control the (Los Alamos National Laboratory).
“There are benefits and challenges to hosting a DOE facility. Because the Lab is part of our community, it is vital that our local leaders are a part of the conversation. For too long our communities have been impacted by decisions from the federal and the state governments with no participation at the local level. We need a voice. We need a seat at the table. The RCLC is our voice. As reflected in the DOE Inspector General report the RCLC is the only organization in northern New Mexico that speaks for cleanup and improving the Lab’s economic impact on our communities. Our membership consists of democratically elected officials whose residents depend on the success of the national laboratory. As such, we are pleased that this process is wrapping up and look forward to reenergizing that voice for our local communities.”
The RCLC board is awaiting the results of an audit it has contracted with an accounting firm which has been submitted to the Office of the State Auditor.
The August 31 ending fund balance for the RCLC presented at the last board meeting was $302,254.57.