Legal, Ethics Commitments Appear to Take a Back Seat at DOE

Legal, Ethics Commitments Appear to Take a Back Seat at DOE

  • February 14, 2022

Department statement verbalizes what appears to be running theme at DOE – policy trumps ethics

Federal watchdog Protect the Public’s Trust today reacted to comments from the Department of Energy (DOE) regarding recent ethics complaints filed by PPT and other watchdog groups. In response to a reporter’s inquiry, a DOE spokesperson appeared to suggest that Department leadership places policy priorities ahead of compliance with legal and ethics obligations.

Last week Protect the Public’s Trust filed its second Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Department. This comes in the wake of numerous ethics complaints from PPT regarding actions by Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and a top deputy. The Washington Free Beacon published a report describing the lawsuit as well as several complaints against Secretary Granholm from media and watchdog organizations, including PPT. When reached for comment,

A Department of Energy spokeswoman said the agency has no time to respond to questions about Granholm’s ethics violations because it is preoccupied with rising temperatures and “extreme weather events.”

“The planet is warming faster than ever, the cost and impact of extreme weather events are intensifying, and yet what some people are spending their time on is a $400 late fee that was already paid on a clerical oversight,” spokeswoman Charisma Troiano told the Free Beacon. “As we do every day, DOE and the Secretary remain focused on tackling the existing climate crisis and delivering an equitable clean energy future that will bring cheaper power, cleaner air and good-paying jobs for more Americans.”

When officials are pursuing what they believe to be righteous agendas, ethics concerns can be the most important guardrails on misconduct. This statement, combined with the volume of complaints, indicates legal and ethics compliance may not be prioritized at DOE. With trust in its government already at an all-time low, the American public has legitimate concerns if the lack of commitment to legal and ethics obligations is what they can expect from DOE as long as Jennifer Granholm is leading the Department. This is especially troubling at an agency that has been far from immune to high-profile boondoggles and which is poised to receive significant increases in funding.

The Department’s budget was more than $39.5 billion in fiscal year 2021 and DOE requested nearly $46.2 billion for 2022, a 16.66% increase. With ever more billions of taxpayer dollars committed to the agency, the necessity for those in charge of setting policy and overseeing the expenditure of those funds to adhere to the ethics guidelines put in place to protect the interests of the American public has even greater importance.

“DOE’s response suggests that leadership at the Department of Energy believes that laws are for the little people, and they have better things to do than comply with the legal and ethical commitments designed to protect the interests of the American public,” stated Michael Chamberlain, Director of Protect the Public’s Trust. “I imagine we can give the Department some credit for being honest and admitting that ethics and integrity are low priorities, rather than merely paying lip service to them. Nevertheless, it is a remarkable departure from the bipartisan tradition of promoting an ethical culture among senior leadership, and in stark contrast to the administration’s pledge to be the most ethical in history. Is this how the Department plans to approach its other obligations while doling out tens of billions of taxpayer dollars?”