The chief of President Obama’s beleaguered clean-energy loan-guarantee program is stepping down amid a federal probe surrounding the administration’s $535-million loan guarantee to Solyndra, the bankrupt solar-energy business.
Jonathan Silver, director of the department’s loan-guarantee program, is leaving the administration to join the centrist Democratic think tank Third Way, said Energy Department spokesman Damien LaVera.
Silver joined the administration in November 2009, two months after the department approved Solyndra’s loan guarantee. He was the first politically appointed director of the program, which was created under the George W. Bush administration in 2005.
But Silver was leading the office when the administration decided to restructure Solyndra's loan early this year. Solyndra filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Aug. 31 and laid off all of its 1,100 employees.
At a Sept. 14 House hearing, Republicans grilled Silver about his role in approving Solyndra’s loan guarantee and monitoring the company’s finances throughout the two years the company was borrowing taxpayer money. Outside investors close to the administration and independent auditors found that Solyndra was burning through capital faster than it should have been by early 2010, soon after Silver came on board.
“At any point, you could have stopped it when you found out the information that they couldn’t exist,” said Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., at the hearing. “That was under your watch, Mr. Silver.”
After that exchange, Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., chairman of the House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee leading Washington’s probe into Solyndra, asked Silver: “Should someone be fired, Mr. Silver? Should anyone be fired? Yes or no?”
Silver didn't answer the question directly, but responded: “We are doing the best job we know how to do.”
In a statement on Thursday, Energy Secretary Steven Chu praised Silver’s accomplishments.
“Under his leadership, the loan program has demonstrated considerable success, with a broad portfolio of investments that will help American companies compete in the global clean energy market,” Chu said. “Because of my absolute confidence in Jonathan and the outstanding work he has done, I would welcome his continued service at the department, but I completely understand the decision he has made. I want to thank him for his tremendous service to our country and for the work he and his outstanding team have done to renew American leadership in clean energy innovation.”
"In early July, shortly after the fiscal year 2011 budget was completed by Congress and it became clear that no significant new funds were included for the loan program, Jonathan Silver informed me that he intended to return to the private sector shortly after Sept. 30, the statutory end date of the 1705 loan guarantee program," the one that spawned the Solyndra saga, Chu said.
Silver directed two other loan programs with different parameters in addition to the program Solyndra received its loan from. That program was created in 2009 as part of the Recovery Act and has been more successful in approving loans than the other two. For those reasons, it has also come under more congressional scrutiny.
Silver’s resignation came just hours after President Obama praised the department’s loan-guarantee program and defended the decisions made throughout the approval and monitoring process involving Solyndra.
“All I can say is that the Department of Energy made these decisions based on their best judgment about what would make sense,” Obama said at a news conference. “The nature of these programs are going to be ones in which for every success, there may be one that does not work out as well. But that’s exactly what the loan-guarantee program was designed by Congress to do.”