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Lawmakers wary as DOE takes tighter grip on Bonneville Power Administration

From the November 1, 2013 issue of Public Power Daily

Originally published November 1, 2013

By Robert Varela
Editorial Director

In response to findings that the Bonneville Power Administration violated federal hiring rules, the Department of Energy tightened its oversight of BPA, ordering its general counsel and human resources director to report to their counterparts at headquarters. The move does not affect the BPA administrator’s authority to determine Bonneville’s hiring needs, DOE Deputy Secretary Daniel Poneman said in an Oct. 24 memo. He called for review of the changes in six months.

In addition, the Office of the Secretary’s senior adviser on power marketing administration issues will work with the BPA administrator to review departmental directives, delegations, regulations and orders, Poneman said. "The review will be a collaborative effort between headquarters and BPA to provide clarity regarding which of these apply to BPA," said BPA Acting Administrator Elliot Mainzer in an email to staff.

Poneman directed DOE’s general counsel to establish:

  • a process "for consideration and final resolution of matters of significant legal risk" by Bonneville’s general counsel; and
  • a process to assure that the BPA general counsel’s advice "reflects consistent application of and compliance with federal law and applicable DOE policies to all BPA activities."

The memo directs DOE’s human resources chief to take a number  of steps, including to assure compliance with federal laws and DOE human resources policies; and to integrate human resources information systems "to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of communications and reviews/audits."

"Washington, DC-based memos and directives are unfortunately a recurring and troubling trend with the Obama administration’s Energy Department, and this one could seriously impact BPA’s legal and statutory responsibilities for the hydro power system and upcoming negotiation of the Columbia River Treaty," said House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., in an Oct. 24 statement. Corrective measures "should be focused on remedying the personnel mistakes made by BPA, implemented with transparency for all of those concerned, and not change the fundamental mission of the BPA to provide affordable electricity to its customers."

Hastings warned that he "will continue to watch these developments and perform congressional oversight where necessary."

DOE should not use the hiring problems as an excuse for controlling BPA policies, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., cautioned at an Oct. 18 press conference. (See "Fix hiring practices, but don’t try to run BPA from afar, Wyden says," in the Oct. 28 Public Power Weekly.

"I have spoken with Deputy Secretary Poneman several times since the IG report was released," Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said in a prepared statement. "He has assured me that while hiring and personnel practices are being addressed, DOE will respect BPA's authority to set policies that support the Pacific Northwest and its ratepayers." 



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Senior Vice President, Publishing 
Jeanne Wickline LaBella

Editorial Director
Robert Varela

Editor, Public Power Daily
Jeannine Anderson

Communications Assistant
Fallon W. Forbush

Manager, Integrated Media 
David L. Blaylock

Integrated Media Editor 
Laura D’Alessandro