National lab scolded for Lusitania experiment

Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A federal watchdog agency reprimanded a national lab in Northern California for spending more than $80,000 in taxpayer money to help National Geographic with a documentary film about the sinking of the ship Lusitania during World War I.

The Energy Department's inspector general said in a report issued last week that Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory improperly used its licensing and royalty fees to perform tests for the documentary and should not have done the work.

"Federal officials at Livermore knew about it and didn't take any action," said Rickey Hass, a deputy inspector general at the Energy Department. "The work itself was not really the issue, but it was inappropriate in that it may have competed with private sector organizations and was funded with money that should have not been used for that purpose. It also wasn't necessarily reported with complete transparency."

Lab spokeswoman Lynda Seaver said lab officials believe they followed correct procedures in the explosives-related work it performed for "The Dark Secrets of the Lusitania." The Energy Department has until early May to determine any sanctions.

The Office of Inspector General has recommended that the lab make changes to improve transparency and management of similar outside contracts going forward.

"Federal officials responsible for oversight of contractor activities in this area told us that they knew of the documentary and were concerned that it was an inappropriate use of LLNL's resources," the report said. "Those officials, however, took no action."

National Geographic's production team wanted to recreate the explosives that might have gone off aboard the Lusitania, and Seaver said no other facility could do that modeling work.

"NatGeo approached this Lab because of its expertise," she said in an email. "There's no other facility that can do the modeling and simulation we do."

Nearly 2,000 people died when a German torpedo sunk the ocean liner in 1915. The incident helped spur the United States to declare war.

National Geographic did not immediately respond to an email and message seeking comment Thursday.

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