WASTE: The delayed opening of the nuclear storage site at Yucca Mountain, above, is costing the feds millions of dollars. (AP / Nevada Appeal, Rick Gunn)
The federal government paid more than $3 billion last year to resolve lawsuits, almost twice as much as it did the year before, according to an analysis by The National Law Journal of hundreds of payment records. As in years past, the Energy Depart­ment spent the most on lawsuits in 2014, paying $929 million in taxpayer money. Most of the money went to nuclear power plants to settle breach-of-contract claims involving the storage of spent nuclear fuel, as in the case of Yucca Mountain, Nevada.
Feds’ Spend on Lawsuits Up
The departments of Energy, Interior and Health and Human Services accounted for the largest share of expenditures. Those agencies spent a combined $2.35 billion to settle a series of long-running disputes that included government contracts litigation over health care programs run by Indian tribes.
CHART: Judgment Fund Payments in 2014 for Cabinet-Level Agencies
Created in 1956, the fund is a permanent, indefinite appropriation, exempt from annual congressional approval. Its records are opaque. Payments are identified only by citation codes and agency file numbers that may or may not correspond to federal court case numbers.
Judgment Fund: Feds Paid $87M in Patent Cases
The U.S. government paid more than $87 million to settle patent infringement suits last year — a sharp uptick after a decade of mostly negligible payments in a handful of cases.
Government Negligence: Five Cases
For every dry legal dispute over proper methods of cost accounting or overtime pay, there are the cases in the Judgment Fund where government workers — through negligence or carelessness — made errors with terrible consequences.