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The Department of Energy has awarded a $109 million contract to Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, despite still-existing conflicts that kept the firm out of a similar engagement nine years ago, according to a report released Thursday by the Energy Department’s inspector general. Morgan, Lewis will represent the department at hearings related to the opening of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste disposal site. ( Read the report here.) The inspector general, Gregory Friedman, called the Energy Department’s failure to document its change in policy “disturbing.” The department awarded Morgan, Lewis the lucrative contract in September 2007, following an informal bid process that Friedman called “other than competitive.” Friedman’s investigation began in December at the request of the Nevada Congressional delegation, which has been highly critical of the Yucca Mountain project. The report says in selecting Morgan, Lewis, the department went with a firm that “represented utilities in the spent nuclear fuel litigation against the government.” Yet in 1999, as The American Lawyerhas previously reported, the department rejected a bid by Morgan, Lewis when a similar contract for legal services related to Yucca Mountain was awarded. At the time, the report says, the department “excluded firms [including Morgan, Lewis] withthis conflict from participating in a similar contract.” Morgan, Lewis represents 14 utilities with regards to contracts they signed with the government to dispose of their spent nuclear fuel, according to disclosures the firm made Sept. 24. It represents 11 clients in suits against the department, a spokeswoman says. The Nevada delegation called for the Energy Department to disqualify Morgan, Lewis, or for the firm to withdraw from the contract. The Energy Department said Thursday that “nothing here warrants the recusal” of Morgan, Lewis, and a firm spokeswoman said it would not withdraw from the contract. The report found that although Morgan, Lewis had a conflict, the Energy Department appeared to have followed conflict-of-interest requirements in awarding the contract. It also noted that Morgan, Lewis had implemented a conflict mitigation plan. But the inspector general was critical of the department’s failure to document its apparent change in procurement policy. “In our view, the public interest would have been better served had the department done more to document the key decision points relating to this procurement,” Friedman wrote. In 1999 the department issued a call for bids for a ten-year contract worth $15�20 million. Four firms competed, including Morgan, Lewis. The upcoming May issue of The American Lawyerwill report on the bid process and those firms involved in the Yucca project from 1999 to today. Morgan, Lewis’s contract with the Energy Department runs through 2011 and will pay the firm $47.7 million. The department has the option to extend the contract for another five years and up to $61.2 million. Jay Gutierrez, head of Morgan’s energy practice, is the overall lead on the project.

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