Los Alamos whistleblower wins large settlement

The University of California has agreed to a $930,000 settlement with a former investigator who last fall drew attention to management problems at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

The university and the whistleblower, Glenn Walp, reached the settlement about a month ago and finalized it last week, said J. Gary Gwilliam, a California attorney for Walp.

Walp was fired from Los Alamos in November 2002, shortly after he and Steve Doran, another former investigator, publicly accused the nuclear facility of mismanagement. The two men claimed that managers at Los Alamos covered up widespread theft and fraud to protect the University of California's contract to run the lab for the Energy Department.

The settlement of nearly $1 million is unusually large for a whistleblower retaliation case, Gwilliam said. The size of the settlement is surprising, because the University of California hired Walp as a consultant in January, roughly two months after he lost his job as an investigator, thereby minimizing his loss of salary.

As part of the settlement, Walp will stop consulting for the university, Gwilliam said. Doran, the second Los Alamos whistleblower, reached an agreement with the university in March, but wishes to keep the financial terms of his settlement private, said Lynne Bernabei, a Washington lawyer who worked on both whistleblower cases. The university rehired Doran on a full-time basis in January, and as part of his settlement, he will remain there as director of public safety and systems security, a senior law enforcement position.

The differences in Walp and Doran's agreements simply reflect distinctions in the settlement terms each sought, Bernabei and Gwilliam said. Bernabei said she is pleased that in Walp's case, the university essentially admitted wrongdoing. "Under the circumstances, it's unusual to have an institution come clean," she said.

The level of attention Walp and Doran's disclosures received nationally likely contributed to the university's willingness to settle, Bernabei said. The university also probably wanted to avoid a court battle, Gwilliam said. Had the parties not reached their current agreement, Walp would have filed a lawsuit, he said.

"[We're] happy to have this settlement behind us," said Chris Harrington, a University of California spokesman. The university has always agreed that Walp was improperly terminated, he added, and will continue to focus its attention on ensuring that Los Alamos properly carries out its mission.

"This settlement surpasses the parameters of any personal achievement," Walp said in a statement announcing the agreement. "More importantly, it represents a solid victory for all Americans whose hard-earned monies were egregiously wasted and misused by leaders and managers at the Los Alamos lab."

Walp and Doran's disclosures resulted in a series of congressional hearings, inspector general investigations and a management shakeup at Los Alamos. In addition, the Energy Department announced in late April that it would place the contract to run Los Alamos up for bids in 2005, when the University of California's current contract ends. The university has operated Los Alamos since the lab opened 60 years ago.

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