Embattled Top Granholm Deputy Leaves DOE

Embattled Top Granholm Deputy Leaves DOE

  • January 13, 2023
Kelly Speakes-Backman’s conduct drew multiple ethics complaints during her tenure

Today, government watchdog Protect the Public’s Trust responded to the announcement that one of Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Jennifer Granholm’s top lieutenants has left the Department. PPT had identified multiple incidents of potential misconduct by Kelly Speakes-Backman while she was at DOE, leading to two separate ethics complaints filed with the Inspector General.

Ms. Speakes-Backman served as Acting Assistant Secretary for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) and later Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for EERE. During her time at EERE, an office with a budget of over $4 billion, she was the highest-ranking official in the office while the role of Assistant Secretary, which requires Senate confirmation, remained unfilled.

In May 2021, PPT filed its first ethics complaint against Ms. Speakes-Backman. The watchdog uncovered instances in which she made multiple mentions of her former employer, the Energy Storage Association (ESA), seemed to endorse several policy requests of ESA – whose members stand to reap significant financial benefits from initiatives from EERE – and implied her own involvement in a major program initiative that would likely financially benefit ESA and its members. These were among several events where she either endorsed ESA or was sponsored by a “Leadership Circle” member of her former employer while acting in her official DOE capacity. Members of the House Oversight Committee responded to these revelations by penning a letter to DOE as part of their “continuing oversight of questionable ethical conduct” at the Department.

Two months later, PPT discovered another incident in which Ms. Speakes-Backman appeared to repeat the same conduct when she delivered an ESA board-member sponsored keynote address to a non-public, paid-admission-only conference of energy storage industry participants seeking taxpayer funds for their various corporate endeavors. PPT followed this discovery with a complaint to the Department of Energy Inspector General.

In addition to the complaints against Kelly Speakes-Backman, PPT also uncovered multiple incidents of apparent misconduct by Secretary Granholm, leading to complaints by the watchdog. In response to a media inquiry regarding these and other complaints against Secretary Granholm and her leadership team, a spokesperson indicated that climate change took precedence over ethics at the Department.

Records obtained through litigation revealed that Ms. Speakes-Backman appeared to be in contention for nomination to the top Senate-confirmed post at EERE prior to the multiple potential ethics violations being raised. What was missing in this batch of DOE records proved just as informative. PPT’s litigation exposed a dearth of ethics advice sought by Ms. Speakes-Backman concerning the various events at the center of her ethics complaints and a corresponding lack of interest among Department ethics in cautioning her to avoid future ethics landmines.

“Secretary Granholm’s Department of Energy has certainly fallen far short of the high ideals articulated by the Biden Administration – that it will be the most ethical in history,” stated Michael Chamberlain, Director of Protect the Public’s Trust. “The continued apparent ethics missteps by Kelly Speakes-Backman during her stint at DOE were emblematic. But the commitment to ethics requirements comes from the top down, and in Secretary Granholm’s DOE, especially with the attitude expressed by their spokesperson that policy considerations take precedence over ethics compliance, we are not optimistic for a turnaround.”