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State board authorizes first contract with former employee as required under new law


By Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau: The state Board of Examiners today authorized the Agency for Nuclear Projects to hire a former employee in a contract position to help continue the fight against Yucca Mountain.

Approval from the board, made up of Gov. Brian Sandoval, Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and Secretary of State Ross Miller, is now required for such agreements with current or former state employees as a result of a new law approved by the 2011 Legislature.

The law was passed after a legislative audit found numerous concerns with current and former state employees being hired as contractors to work for state agencies, sometimes at a much higher rate of pay. Many of the contracts were not clearly disclosed by state agencies.

The board, which met without Masto, approved the request from the agency to enter into a contract to hire Joe Strolin, its former acting executive director and Planning Division administrator. The actual contract, which will come to the board at its next meeting, is for one year at a cost of $50,000.

Bob Halstead, executive director of the nuclear projects agency, told the board that Nevada faces a serious threat to revive Yucca Mountain as a high-level repository for nuclear waste. The qualifications of Strolin will serve the agency well in its preparation to fight this effort, he said.

Nuclear Projects Executive Director Bob Halstead testifies today at the Board of Examiners. / Nevada News Bureau.

“I understand the intent of the Legislature to set a high bar for the approval of these types of exceptional requests,” Halstead said. “We have a situation where we have an extreme need, we have an individual with unique capabilities and experience, and it will help us within a difficult budget.”

The Yucca Mountain repository has been declared dead after President Obama pulled the plug on the project in 2010.

But Halstead said there are numerous forces that want the Yucca Mountain project to be revived and a critical time in this fight will begin in January. One battlefront is a federal lawsuit by the states of Washington and South Carolina to reactivate the licensing process for Yucca Mountain, he said.

“On the one hand, I don’t want to come before you and say that Yucca Mountain is alive again,” Halstead told Sandoval. “But our job is to keep Yucca Mountain dead, and there is a serious effort on the part of a number of parties to resume the licensing process. That is why it is important for Nevada to maintain its vigilance, both through the Agency for Nuclear Projects in your office, and through the attorney general’s office.”

Sandoval said Halstead made a compelling argument to hire Strolin, and the board voted to approve the request.

The new rules prohibit a current state employee from being hired under contract by a state agency unless approved by the Board of Examiners. The same approval is required of a former state employee who has not been out of state employment for at least two years.

Such contracts can only be approved if certain circumstances are found to exist, including situations where a short-term or unusual economic circumstance exists for an agency requiring such employment.

The legislative audit identified 250 current and former employees providing services to the state. These employees were paid a total of $11.6 million during fiscal years 2008 and 2009, the years covered by the review.

Audio clips:

Nuclear Projects Executive Director Bob Halstead says he understands the legislative intent of the new law:

110811Halstead1 :22 a difficult budget.”

Halstead says Strolin’s expertise is important for the fight against Yucca Mountain:

110811Halstead2 :28 attorney general’s office.”

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