WASHINGTON -- House Republicans on Wednesday charged top administration officials with rushing the review of more than $500 million in loan guarantees for Solyndra, the California-based solar company that recently filed for bankruptcy, so that Vice President Joe Biden could announce their approval at a company event two years ago.
"The documents demonstrate that, when DOE was reviewing the Solyndra guarantee in 2009, it was well aware of the financial problems the deal posed," said Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, during a Wednesday subcommittee hearing on Solyndra. "What the documents also show is that the rush to push out stimulus dollars may have impacted the depth and quality of DOE and OMB's review."
House Republicans point to a series of internal emails that they allege show the administration placed considerable pressure on the Office of Management and Budget and the Energy Department's loan programs office to speed through a decision on financing for Solyndra.
The Obama administration is pushing back against those allegations, with White House spokesman Jay Carney insisting on Wednesday that the White House had not rushed the review of loan guarantees and that the emails reveal little more than a "scheduling decision."
"What the emails make clear is there was urgency to make a decision on a scheduling matter," Carney told a group of reporters on Air Force One. "It is a big proposition to move the president or to put on an event and that sort of thing, so people were simply looking for answers about whether or not people could move forward. ... It had nothing to -- and there is no evidence to the contrary -- nothing to do with anything besides the need to get an answer to make a scheduling decision."
According to the internal emails, which House Republicans have released, one OMB reviewer noted that a credit-rating agency had predicted Solyndra would go belly up by September 2011, almost precisely when it did.
"We have ended up with a situation of having to do rushed approvals on a couple of occasions (and we are worried about Solyndra at the end of the week)," an OMB staffer told Biden's domestic policy adviser in 2009, according to one email. "We would prefer to have sufficient time to do our due diligence reviews and have the approval set the date for the announcement rather than the other way around."
But at Wednesday's hearing before the Energy and Commerce subcommittee, Jonathan Silver, executive director of DOE’s loan programs office, insisted he wasn't under pressure to approve Solyndra's financing, and Jeffrey Zients, deputy director for OMB's management office, said, "Our analysis ... reflected the information as it was understood at that time."
While Zients conceded that emails among the White House did seek to coordinate the Solyndra loan guarantee with Biden's appearance, he reiterated at Wednesday's hearing that such scheduling had "nothing to do with the decision to give the loan or not."
Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, placed blame for the Solyndra debacle squarely with the Obama administration.
“The Obama administration has repeatedly touted its green energy plan as the savior of our faltering economy,” Stearns said in an opening statement. He added, “Only after the Obama administration took control and the stimulus passed was the Solyndra deal pushed through.”
And a number of media outlets, citing a 2009 decision by the Energy Department’s credit committee, have broadcast that the Solyndra loan guarantee was rejected by the Bush administration only to be approved by Obama’s.
In fact, the Energy Department began reviewing the deal during the Bush administration, advancing through the review and approval process between 2006 and 2009. A report submitted by the credit committee on Jan. 9, 2009, shows the committee decided to continue the due diligence process rather than to recommend the loan guarantee immediately proceed for further approvals.
As Silver noted in his testimony, the Energy Department during the Bush administration rejected more than 100 other applications while inviting Solyndra and 15 other companies to continue their applications, and the Obama administration ultimately approved the Solyndra loan guarantee on “the exact schedule that had been developed during the Bush administration.”
Touted as a model for green energy, Solyndra received a $535 million federal loan guarantee from the U.S. government -- before laying off 1,100 workers and and filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in August, leaving taxpayers on the hook for more than a half-billion dollars.
Solyndra executives Brian Harrison and W.G. Stover Jr. are expected to testify before the committee next week.