In 2009 White House officials pressured the Office of Management and Budget to make quick approval of a $535 million loan guarantee for solar panel maker Solyndra, according to e-mails obtained by The Washington Post.
The reason for the rush was to allow Vice President Joe Biden to announce the loan at an opening ceremony for the company’s factory in September 2009. The loan had been approved by the Energy Department, but needed final clearance from the OMB.
Solyndra was a vital piece of President Barack Obama’s effort to promote clean energy sources. The company collapsed two weeks ago, meaning taxpayers will foot the bill for the loan.
Solyndra’s biggest investors were funds representing the family foundation of Tulsa billionaire George Kaiser, who has raised funds for Obama and frequently visited the White House. He has denied using political influence to push through the loan.
But the e-mail exchanges raise suspicions that the administration went above and beyond proper procedure to ensure that Solyndra received the first loan guarantee under its stimulus program.
As for the August 2009 e-mails, they illustrate that White House officials repeatedly quizzed OMB officials as to when they would decide on the loan and pointed to a news conference where they hoped to trumpet the loan.
OMB staffers responded that they were worried about moving too fast to approve the loan without properly assessing its merits, according to information provided by Republican congressional investigators.
“We have ended up with a situation of having to do rushed approvals on a couple of occasions. . . . We would prefer to have sufficient time to do our due diligence reviews,” a senior OMB official wrote in an e-mail to Terrell P. McSweeny, Biden’s domestic policy adviser.
The Obama administration denies having applied any inappropriate pressure on OMB. White House officials said the e-mails show merely that the administration had a “quite active interest” in the timing of OMB’s decision, The Washington Post reports.
“There was interest in when a decision would be made because of its impact on whether an event involving the vice president could be scheduled for a particular date or not, but the loan guarantee decision was merit-based and made by career staffers at DOE,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said.
The e-mails don’t make clear whether White House pressure played a role in OMB’s approval of the loan guarantee.
Republican investigators for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is holding a hearing about Solyndra Wednesday, maintain that the White House set a date for the OMB approval before the agency even began its review. Administration officials may have had a “tangible impact” on the OMB’s decision, they said.
An assistant to Rahm Emanuel, then White House chief of staff, wrote to OMB about Biden’s upcoming announcement on Solyndra and asked whether “there is anything we can help speed along on OMB side.”
An agency official responded: “I would prefer that this announcement be postponed. . . . This is the first loan guarantee, and we should have full review with all hands on deck to make sure we get it right.”
The Sept. 4, 2009 announcement event took place as scheduled, with the presence of Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Biden making remarks via satellite.
The e-mails also indicate the administration perhaps should have anticipated Solyndra’s financial woes. August 2009 e-mail exchanges between Energy Department officials note that a credit-rating agency predicted that the project would run out of cash in September 2011. Solyndra ceased operations Aug. 31.
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