En­ergy’s IG probes de­lay of lay­off news at Solyn­dra

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY JIM MCELHATTON

The En­ergy Depart­ment’s Of­fice of In­spec­tor Gen­eral is in­ves­ti­gat­ing who pushed to de­lay bad news about fed­er­ally backed Solyn­dra LLC un­til af­ter the Novem­ber 2010 midterm elec­tions.

En­ergy Sec­re­tary Steven Chu, who nearly four months ago pledged to find out if any­one in his depart­ment was in­volved, told a House Com­mit­tee on Thurs­day that he has turned the mat­ter over to the depart­ment’s Of­fice of In­spec­tor Gen­eral.

Mr. Chu’s com­ments came in re­sponse to ques­tions from Rep. Michael C. Burgess, Texas Re­pub­li­can, dur­ing a hear­ing by the House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee’s sub­com­mit­tee on en­ergy and power. The House En­ergy Com­mit­tee’s in­ves­ti­ga­tions panel has been in­ves­ti­gat­ing the En­ergy Depart­ment’s 2009 loan guar­an­tee to Solyn­dra for $535 mil­lion for more than a year. The com­pany went bank­rupt last year.

Last year, a Re­pub­li­can staff memo from the com­mit­tee showed that an of­fi­cial at one of the ma­jor in­vestors in Solyn­dra said the En­ergy Depart­ment “did push very hard for us to hold our an­nounce­ment of the con­sol­i­da­tion to em­ploy­ees and ven­dors to Nov. 3 — oddly they didn’t give a rea­son for that date.”

The date was one day af­ter the midterm elec­tions. The dis­clo­sure fu­eled talk by Repub­li­cans that pol­i­tics were in­volved in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s han­dling of the Solyn­dra loan. The com­pany was a high-pro­file ben­e­fi­ciary of Pres­i­dent Obama’s stim­u­lus pro­gram. Mr. Obama toured the com­pany in 2010, and Vice Pres­i­dent Joseph R. Bi­den made re­marks at a com­pany ground­break­ing cer­e­mony in 2009.

Mr. Chu was ques­tioned about the lay­off time­line at a hear­ing last year. He said he would not have ap­proved of the de­lay, adding that “we do have an in­ter­est in find­ing out” who pushed to put off the an­nounce­ment.

“Well, cer­tainly our gen­eral coun­sel’s of­fice will look at who is do­ing these things,” he said at the time.

Dur­ing his tes­ti­mony Thurs­day, Mr. Chu said he later turned the mat­ter over to the agency’s in­spec­tor gen­eral be­cause do­ing so would pro­vide “an in­de­pen­dent look at what hap­pened.” He said he has not been in­ter­viewed by the in­spec­tor gen­eral about the an­nounce­ment de­lay, but said he would co­op­er­ate.

Mr. Chu was also pressed about whether any other loan re­cip­i­ents were headed for bank­ruptcy. He said the depart­ment closely mon­i­tors com­pa­nies’ fi­nan­cial health and mar­ket con­di­tions, but he de­clined to dis­cuss any in­di­vid­ual re­cip­i­ents be­cause of what he said were con­fi­den­tial­ity con­cerns.

The dis­clo­sure about the in­volve­ment of the in­spec­tor gen­eral, an in­de­pen­dent agency that in­ves­ti­gates fraud and waste, in the Solyn­dra in­quiry came dur­ing a hear­ing cov­er­ing a broad range of other is­sues, in­clud­ing ris­ing gas prices.

Mr. Chu said the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion was con­cerned about the in­creas­ing price of gas, but added that there was “no magic bul­let.”

Chu

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