Republican investigators for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is holding a hearing about Solyndra on Wednesday, concluded that the White House set a closing date for the OMB approval even before the OMB review had begun.
The White House pressure may have had a “tangible impact” on the OMB’s risk assessment of the loan, the congressional investigators concluded.
In one e-mail, an OMB staff member questioned whether the review team was using the best model for determining the financial risk to taxpayers in evaluating the Solyndra deal.
“Given the time pressure we are under to sign-off on Solyndra, we don’t have time to change the model,” the staffer wrote.
Solyndra was a favorite of the administration until two weeks ago, when the company abruptly shuttered its factory and filed for bankruptcy court protection, leaving 1,100 people out of work and taxpayers on the hook for the loans. Last week, FBI agents searched the company’s Silicon Valley headquarters in a raid that Miller said appeared linked to the loan guarantee.
In one e-mail, an assistant to Rahm Emanuel, then White House chief of staff, wrote on Aug. 31, 2009, to OMB about the upcoming Biden announcement on Solyndra and asked whether “there is anything we can help speed along on OMB side.”
An OMB staff member 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.”
In another message, a White House staff member wrote that officials were “walking a fine line with Solyndra needing to begin notifying investors to fly in” for the groundbreaking. It stressed that “this OMB piece” of the review was not final and pointed out that if word of the groundbreaking leaked to the public prematurely, that would “leave us in an awkward place.”
The e-mails also raise questions about whether the administration should have foreseen financial trouble. In August 2009, e-mail exchanges between Energy Department staff members pointed out that a credit-rating agency predicted that the project would run out of cash in September 2011. Solyndra shut its doors on the final day of August.
The House committee has been investigating Solyndra’s dealings with the Energy Department for six months. In July , subcommittee members subpoenaed White House documents related to the guarantee.
Questions about the selection process were first raised in a July 2010 audit by the Government Accountability Office. It concluded that the Energy Department “lacked appropriate tools for assessing the progress” of the loan program and that the department treated applicants inconsistently, “favoring some applicants and disadvantaging others.”
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), chairman of that panel’s oversight and investigations subcommittee, said last week that the FBI raid confirmed their belief that the “darling” of Obama’s green-jobs program was a “bad bet” from the beginning.
“Solyndra was the hallmark of the President’s green jobs program and widely promoted by the administration as a stimulus success story, right up until its bankruptcy and FBI raid,” Upton and Stearns said in a statement on Tuesday. “Let’s learn the lessons of Solyndra before another dollar goes out the door.”
Rep. Henry A. Waxman (Calif.) and Rep. Diana DeGette (Colo.) — Democrats on the committee who had once defended the choice of Solyndra — last week also questioned whether they had been misled. In a letter, they wrote that Solyndra chief executive Brian Harrison “did not convey to us the perilous condition of the company, and the Committee should know why. ”
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