Their workloads have largely fallen to Richard's new hires -- a succession of junior staff members with firm Republican Party ties but little or no energy experience, according to internal agency e-mails and résumés provided to The Washington Post. Their résumés list such positions as camp and dorm counselor and such activities as "improvisational comedian."
One recent hire was Brandon Arnold, a former Capitol Hill staff member. Arnold, whose 1999 undergraduate degree is in political science, lists no energy background on his résumé.
"I think he'd be a great hire," Richard wrote in an e-mail last spring to Steven L. Kreseski, Ehrlich's chief of staff. ". . . He is currently senior [legislative aide] to Rep. [F. James] Sensenbrenner, but he is a Marylander, and now has a house in Baltimore."
Arnold was hired in March 2004 and is paid $51,287, according to state records. He handles legislation and policy and runs a program that helps Maryland industries become more energy efficient. Arnold, in a telephone interview, said he was well qualified for the job.
Christopher Rice, a 2001 college graduate, met Richard at a GOP office in November and immediately sent him an e-mail asking for a job. The Maryland Republican Party intern said his college biology degree and two years' experience at a poultry company laboratory demonstrated his science background.
"I looked at your website and I feel I would be an asset to your team," he wrote.
In a later e-mail to the appointments office, Richard described Rice as a "perfect energy office candidate!" Rice was hired this year at a salary of $36,025, according to an e-mail from Richard, to work on biomass projects and a program that ensures adequate fuel supplies in the event of emergencies.
Asked in an interview last month about the qualifications of new hires, Richard said the new staff members were "heads and shoulders above" those who left. "I'm very happy, very proud of the people we're hiring," he said. "They're eminently qualified."
As the energy agency came under Richard's command, it was not only staff that changed. Its mission also evolved.
Four months after taking over, Richard wrote an e-mail to Ehrlich's press secretary and chief of staff proposing that "we put the governor on the air and in print as the spokesperson" for Energy Star, a federal program that promotes the sale of energy-efficient products. Months earlier, Ehrlich had vetoed a bill requiring nine types of appliances to adhere to the Energy Star standards.
Richard wrote that the ad campaign "would give the governor an opportunity to be out front on a program highly favored by the environmental community."
When the ads started airing, Del. John A. Hurson (D-Montgomery) accused the governor of disguising "personal partisan political advertising" as a public service announcement.
Ehrlich aides, including Richard, defended the campaign as a perquisite of incumbency and an effective way to harness Ehrlich's popularity for a good cause.
Another program that became a focus of intense interest by Richard was one that allows state agencies to use alternative financing to upgrade their buildings with energy-efficient technology, such as more energy-efficient heating units. The program requires recipients to use specific contractors for the work.