Policy: Environment & Energy

House to grill DOE Solyndra program czar about skirting transparency laws

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Joel Gehrke,Darrell Issa,Energy and Environment,FOIA

Jonathan Silver, who led the Energy Department's Loan Program Office that gave taxpayer-backed loan guarantees to green energy companies that ultimately went bankrupt, will join other current and former government officials in testifying Tuesday about using private email accounts to avoid congressional oversight.

Silver will testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee about his use of a private email account to discuss loan applications with green energy investors who stood to profit from receiving taxpayer subsidies, according to hearing documents obtained by the Washington Examiner.

The former DOE official didn't want congressional investigators to see the work-related messages that he sent on his private email account.

“Don’t ever send an e-mail on doe e-mail with private e-mail addresses," Silver wrote to Morgan Wright, DOE's director of strategic initiatives, on Aug. 21, 2011. "That makes them supoenable [sic].” Silver sent the email from his personal account to Wright's personal account.

Silver also communicated via private email with investors hoping to benefit from DOE loans, though he told House investigators that he had not done so.

"In the production from Jonathan Silver’s private account, however, there are multiple e-mails between Silver and individuals that invested in companies that received loan guarantees," according to the documents.

The documents cite Fisker investor John Doerr among Silver's correspondents. Fisker received $529 million in DOE loans, but the Energy Department blocked access to most of that funding due to the company's inability to meet milestones. (Solyndra's bankruptcy is the best-known of the DOE loan program failures, but Silver did not run the Loan Program Office when the company's application was approved, though he attempted to facilitate government contracts for the company in 2010.)

“Officials in multiple administrations have struggled to fully comply, and in some instances willfully flaunted, federal transparency and record keeping laws through their use of non-official e-mail and other electronic communications to conduct official government business,” House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said in a statement on the hearing.

Silver will have company on the hot seat. Former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson will also testify. She used a fictitious government email account under the name of "Richard Windsor" to conduct official business.

The hearing will also feature Andrew McLaughlin and Gary Gensler. McLaughlin, former deputy chief technology officer in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and a former official at Google, "used his Google contacts to mitigate negative reaction to actions taken in his official capacity," according to the documents.

Gensler, chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, will testify about his use of a private email account to conduct official business, particularly those that pertained to MF Global, a broker run by former Gov. Jon Corzine, D-N.J., that went bankrupt in 2011 despite "improperly us[ing] customer cash to cover liquidity gaps," as Reuters explains.

An inspector general who probed Gensler's use of his private email to discuss MF Global Business found "found 7,005 e-mails sent from, sent to, or copied to his personal e-mail account," according to hearing preparation documents (original emphasis).

Gensler, who worked at Goldman Sachs for 18 years, told the IG he didn't not know how to access his work email from home.

“Having come to this job after years of not working in a traditional office setting and primarily being a single, stay-at-home dad, I was not attuned to the ways of accessing work e-mail at home," Gensler said in testimony prepared for Tuesday's hearing.

"At the CFTC we didn’t have a robust training program – and I personally did not receive training – on either remote access or federal records," he said.

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