It's called the Department of Energy Mentor-Protege Program.

The U.S. Inspector General released a report this week showing that while this program has been very successful in helping small businesses grow and later be able to take on DOE work,  many in the program have already received federal assistance or contracts.  The program often allows smaller companies to receive DOE contracts without having to bid competitively with larger firms.

The program is targeted towards companies that would be likely, if they can become capable, take on sub-contract work for the Department.  The report looked at the mentor-protege program at Hanford,  and sites in Tennessee and South Carolina.

The report found one company at Hanford that already had done over $100 million worth of work for the DOE was then given help through the program.  At least nine companies were found to have done anywhere from $7 to $68 million dollars worth of contract duties for the DOE before entering the mentor-protege program.

Other companies were found to have been in the program for up to 7 years, well exceeding the statute of limitations.   Several companies entered the mentor-protege program at one DOE site, then enrolled in the program again at a different DOE project location.

The Inspectorr General report said the DOE did not have policies to oversee the program, didn't oversee it closely enough, and needed to spent more time screening applicants to see if they fit the criteria.     None of names of the companies were listed, nor was any revealing information about them given.

DOE says it will examine and if necessary, restructure the program to prevent such lapses.