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Report: Stimulus bill money improperly used to buy Chinese solar panels for federal building

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Sean Higgins

In the summer of 2011, the White House was struggling to save federal loan guarantee recipient Solyndra from a bankruptcy the administration would later blame on unfair competition from below-cost Chinese solar panels. How badly was the U.S. losing out to China? Well, according to a report by the inspector general of the General Services Administration, taxpayer dollars from the federal stimulus bill were used to purchase Chinese solar panels for a federal building in Illinois. This was, the IG notes, in violation of the stimulus bill’s own rules.

The IG’s report was made in a July 29, 2011, letter to the commissioners of the GSA’s Public Building Service and Federal Acquisition Service regarding “installation of photovoltaic panels on the Senator Paul Simon (Simon) Federal Building in Carbondale, Illinois. The photovoltaic panels installed in the Simon Federal Building were assembled in China.”

The IG adds: “Using these items violates provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) that funded the project.” ARRA is the official acronym of the stimulus bill.

The federal government placed import duties on Chinese solar panels this summer in an effort to protect domestic manufacturers. China has responded by opening anti-dumping and anti-subsidy probes against the U.S.

The IG report relates an ironic example of just how much success Chinese was having selling its panels in the U.S.  Even taxpayer dollars meant to revive the U.S. economy and provide domestic jobs were going to overseas factories.

According to the report, the contractor, J.R. Conkey and Associates, Inc., had asked the GSA’s contracting officer whether buying the Chinese panels was ok under the stimulus bill rules. They were told that it was and to proceed. This was incorrect, the IG noted, and it urged the GSA to take “necessary corrective measures.”

The Simon Federal building in Carbondale, Illinois, is home to the regional offices of both Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin and Rep. Jerry Costello, both Democrats. Neither office returned calls by the Examiner seeking comment. Various federal agencies also have offices in the building.

The report was sent to PBS commissioner Robert Peck. He was fired earlier this year for his role in a lavish event the GSA threw in Las Vegas in 2010 that cost taxpayers $823,000.

The other commissioner was it was addressed to was FAS’s Steven Kempf. He went on a 60-day medical leave in late July shortly before he was due to testify regarding overspending in a 2010 awards ceremony he organized in Arlington, Virginia, that cost $268,732.

Kudos to the Washington Times for being the first to notice the IG report.

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Author:

Sean Higgins

Senior Writer
The Washington Examiner