The Regional Coalition of LANL Communities (RCLC) is facing scrutiny from several directions lately. The Department of Energy (DOE) Inspector General is conducting an investigation. Two members of the Santa Fe Board of County Commissioners abstained from a vote on new RCLC financial controls because the commissioners opposed blindly supporting LANL’s mission, which is 70% nuclear weapons work. And SF New Mexican columnist
The RCLC mission is – “The Regional Coalition 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 Los Alamos National Laboratories (LANL). The Regional Coalition is comprised of elected and tribal officials representing their local communities to ensure national decisions incorporate local needs and interests.” RCLC members include: City of Española, County of Los Alamos, County of Rio Arriba, City of Santa Fe, County of Santa Fe, Pueblo of Jemez, Ohkay Owingeh, Town of Taos, County of Taos.
The Regional Coalition seeks to grow and maintain a talented workforce pipeline to ensure LANL operations support regional economic stability and growth… The Regional Coalition advocates for sufficient funding, responsible policy and safe practices in the cleanup of all environmental nuclear waste generated at LANL.
The DOE IG investigation was mentioned in a RCLC Executive Director’s report, where he reported, “we have received information that an IG investigation into the internal handling of the grant process is underway.” The ‘grant process’ refers to the $100,000 that the DOE grants the RCLC annually to lobby Congress for more funding for LANL, which is a DOE site.
On Tuesday SF County Commissioners Anna Hansen and Ed Moreno abstained from a vote to impose stricter financial controls on the RCLC because Hansen’s amendments to oppose possible funding of LANL’s nuclear mission were not approved. (More below) NukeWatch favors stricter financial controls and increased LANL cleanup funding, but using DOE money to fund lobbying DOE is fraught with accounting questions, no matter how many bank accounts the funds go through. And we think that there simpler ways to lobby Congress for more cleanup funding.
Simonich’s Op-Ed states that the new state auditor, Brian Colón said, “We’ve reviewed all of the open files, and this is one I was concerned about because it wasn’t brought to a clear conclusion.” (See Below)
Santa Fe County commissioners approved a revised joint powers agreement Tuesday that imposes stricter financial controls over the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities, a public agency that had largely operated under the radar until it was thrust into the spotlight a year ago amid revelations of unauthorized expenses.
But the vote wasn’t unanimous.
County Commissioner Anna Hansen, who proposed a handful of unsuccessful amendments, abstained, and County Commissioner Ed Moreno, the lone supporter of Hansen’s proposed changes, also didn’t vote.
Hansen wanted to strike a provision in the agreement that gives the coalition authority to advocate for long-term stable funding of Los Alamos National Laboratory missions, among other proposed changes.
“I would like to entertain the idea of deleting ‘advocacy of long-term stable funding of LANL missions’ since LANL’s mission is 70 percent weapons-related,” she said. “It seems to me that that would be possibly a point that we are supporting weapons production.”
But a majority of her colleagues disagreed and voted to approve the revised joint powers agreement, or JPA, as presented.
Agency known for abuses should die with a whimper
One of the cardinal sins of a government watchdog is to make an explosive finding of malfeasance, then do nothing to recover any missing money.
And it’s practically a felony in the newspaper business to publicize this sort of trouble, then let the story fade away.
So I asked the new state auditor, Brian Colón, what had become of the inquiry into a public agency that lived high on the hog — or more precisely high on beer and WhistlePig whiskey.
I am talking about the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities. Its former executive director and many of its members had a taste for booze and fine restaurants at public expense.
Colón knows its history.
“We’ve reviewed all of the open files, and this is one I was concerned about because it wasn’t brought to a clear conclusion,” he said.
A special state audit of the coalition listed 18 findings of bad financial practices. The audit also stated that the coalition misspent more than $51,500 from July 1, 2014, through last June.
Auditors attributed more than half of that inappropriate spending — a total of $26,862.18 — to Andrea Romero, who was executive director of the coalition. The coalition did not renew Romero’s contract last year. Still, she remains in the headlines as a freshman Democratic state representative for Santa Fe.
The coalition was such an obscure agency that it sidestepped annual audits required under state law. The speaker of the state House of Representatives said he’d never even heard of the coalition until it made news for reckless spending of public money during a junket in Washington, D.C.
Colón, a Democrat, said the special audit conducted by his Republican predecessor identified problems in the coalition’s handling of money but lacked any follow through.
Now, he said, his aim is work with the U.S. Department of Energy and the state Attorney General’s Office to secure reimbursement of all misspent money “so the public is made whole again.”
The coalition has received about $197,000 a year in taxpayers’ money. Eric Vasquez, first-year executive director of the agency, says this money funds vital work. By his account, the coalition speaks with one voice for nine cities, counties and pueblos that have an abiding interest in Los Alamos National Laboratory.
The coalition is funded mostly by federal taxpayers but also receives money supplied by area residents.