A senior Department of Energy (DOE) official used his position to encourage the agency to hire a longtime friend and referred 10 more personal acquaintances to a DOE contractor for a series of hiring decisions that created the perception of favoritism, according to federal watchdogs.
The official is a senior employee in DOE’s Loan Programs Office (LPO), which has come under fire for using taxpayer funds to guarantee loans to green energy companies, some of which, including the bankrupt solar company Solyndra, subsequently faced financial difficulties.
According to a report published Wednesday by DOE’s inspector general (IG), the senior LPO official hired a "friend" with whom he had a "longstanding personal relationship" for a vacant position in the office.
"The circumstances surrounding the individual's selection may have been influenced, at least in part, by the senior LPO official's prior relationship and past experience," the inspector general found.
The report recommends that DOE authorities "determine whether the senior LPO official violated the standards of ethical conduct or engaged in irregular hiring practices and take necessary action."
Whether a violation took place was not immediately clear, due in part to the lack of documentation supporting some of the hiring decisions.
The IG was unable to determine whether personal connections improperly advantaged the LPO officer’s friend, "and whether the senior LPO official fully considered other qualified applicants, because no candidate evaluation records existed for this particular hiring action," the report noted.
At the very least, the report added, LPO’s hiring practices "could have caused others to perceive a misuse of position."
The inspector general’s office was informed that the official also "directed" a contractor to hire other applicants with whom he had a personal relationship. The report did not substantiate those allegations.
However, it did find that that the LPO official referred 10 applicants to a DOE contractor, all of whom were subsequently hired. One of those applicants served as the LPO official’s executive assistant, according to the inspector general.
In both instances–contractor referrals and the LPO hire—the senior official in question denied that the eventual hires were due to favoritism. The IG report notes that the DOE contractor said it did not feel pressured to hire the applicants.
Asked for comment, DOE officials stressed that all LPO hiring decisions went through all the proper channels.
"As the report points out, this selection was made on the merits," one official said. "It was properly referred to human resourced for consideration."
The report stated that the relationships between the LPO official and job applicants for DOE and contractor positions are still of concern.
"The appearance of favoritism in the Federal hiring process and active involvement in the contractor staffing process could erode the public trust in the hiring process and could damage the relationship between the Department and its contractors," the report found.