More than 100 investigations and overall bad management of almost $40 billion have mired the federal government’s efforts to jump-start the clean-energy economy, a top government watchdog testified to Congress on Wednesday.
“A combination of massive funding, high expectations, and inadequate infrastructure resulted, at times, in less than optimal performance,” Gregory Friedman, the Energy Department's inspector general, said at a House oversight hearing Wednesday morning.
On top of that, Friedman also said that his office has launched more than 100 investigations into DOE’s handling of the $35.2 billion in Recovery Act funding it received. “These involve various schemes, including the submission of false information, claims for unallowable or unauthorized expenses, and other improper uses of Recovery Act funds,” he said.
Friedman’s testimony comes as the Obama administration is taking heat for awarding $535 million in stimulus money to Solyndra, a solar-energy company that filed for bankruptcy in September. The IG was critical of the loan-guarantee program in a March 2011 report, and he didn’t have kind words for the program on Wednesday, either.
“The loan-guarantee program had not properly documented, and as such could not always readily demonstrate, how it resolved or mitigated relevant risks prior to granting loan guarantees,” Friedman said.
Of the $35.2 billion, only 45 percent had been spent as of October 22. “The expeditious creation of jobs was a prime goal of the program,” Friedman said. “The delay in expenditures was not helpful in this regard.” Overall, the administration poured $90 billion into clean-energy projects throughout the federal government, according to White House fact sheets.
Friedman’s probes into DOE’s management of the money have resulted in five criminal prosecutions and have returned more than $2.3 million to the government. “This includes a series of cases involving fictitious claims for travel per diem resulting in the recovery of $1 million alone in Recovery Act funds,” he said.
Friedman said he could not comment on Solyndra’s loan guarantee specifically because of ongoing investigations by the FBI and others.
Energy Department spokesman Damien LaVera defended DOE's efforts to stimulate clean energy with stimulus dollars despite the IG's investigations.
"Under the Recovery Act, the Department has allocated more than $35.2 billion to support more than 15,000 projects around the country," LaVera said. "Despite this unprecedented commitment of reosurces to the Department's mission, fewer than 1 percent of those projects resulted in an IG investigation."