EXCLUSIVE | The Obama White House tried to rush federal reviewers for a decision on a nearly half-billion-dollar loan to the solar-panel manufacturer Solyndra so Vice President Biden could announce the approval at a September 2009 groundbreaking for the company’s factory, newly obtained e-mails show.
The Silicon Valley company, a centerpiece in President Obama’s initiative to develop clean energy technologies, had been tentatively approved for the loan by the Energy Department but was awaiting a final financial review by the Office of Management and Budget.
Solyndra LLC CEO Brian Harrison and Chief Financial Officer Bill Stover have postponed their previously scheduled congressional testimony until sometime next week. Harrison and Stover were scheduled to testify tomorrow after the company filed for bankruptcy protection following a $535 million U.S. loan guarantee. (Sept. 13)
President Obama has put a special spotlight on clean technology during his time in the White House, personally visiting and praising 22 companies for their work on energy innovation and efficiency in high-profile trips. These visits made up more than half of Obama's out-of-town travel to businesses.
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The August 2009 e-mails, released exclusively to The Washington Post, show White House officials repeatedly asking OMB reviewers when they would be able to decide on the federal loan and noting a looming press event at which they planned to announce the deal. In response, OMB officials expressed concern that they were being rushed to approve the company’s project without adequate time to assess the risk to taxpayers, according to information provided by Republican congressional investigators.
Solyndra collapsed two weeks ago, leaving taxpayers liable for the $535 million loan.
One e-mail from an OMB official referred to “the time pressure we are under to sign-off on Solyndra.” Another complained, “There isn’t time to negotiate.”
“We have ended up with a situation of having to do rushed approvals on a couple of occasions (and we are worried about Solyndra at the end of the week),” one official wrote. That Aug. 31, 2009, message, written by a senior OMB staffer and sent to Terrell P. McSweeny, Biden’s domestic policy adviser, concluded, “We would prefer to have sufficient time to do our due diligence reviews.”
White House officials said Tuesday that no one in the administration tried to influence the OMB decision on the loan. They stressed that the e-mails show only that the administration had a “quite active interest” in the timing of OMB’s decision.
“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.
Solyndra spokesman David Miller said he was unaware of any direct involvement of the White House in securing or accelerating the loan.
The e-mail exchanges could intensify questions about whether the administration was playing favorites and made costly errors while choosing the first recipient of a loan guarantee under its stimulus program. Solyndra’s biggest investors were funds operated on behalf of the family foundation of Tulsa billionaire and Obama fundraiser George Kaiser. Although he has been a frequent White House visitor, Kaiser has said he did not use political influence to win approval of the loan.
The White House has previously said that it had no involvement in the Solyndra loan application and that all decisions were made by career officials based on the merits of the company.