Watchdog group: DOE violates records laws

September 18, 2013 by  
Filed under Solar Energy Tips

Is the Energy Department violating federal records laws? That’s the concern of a government watchdog group after filing government records requests asking for information on applicants to the department’s controversial loan program.

Cause of Action asked the Energy Department for records regarding the identity and creditworthiness of the 460 applicants who had applied to the agency’s loan program, which guaranteed loans to green energy companies such as Solyndra, Abound Solar and Fisker Automotive.

However, CoA received a response that caused them to question the Energy Department’s record-keeping practices. The agency failed to produce letters they are required to send to the Internal Revenue Service when assessing the creditworthiness of a loan applicant.

This could be in violation of the Federal Records Act, according to CoA.

“The Federal Records Act requires each agency head to make and preserve records,” said Dan Epstein, CoA’s executive director. “By failing to preserve these records, the DOE may have violated the Federal Records Act and its own regulations implementing the Act.”

Cause of Action filed two separate Freedom of Information Act requests to the Energy Department asking for records identifying the names of the 460 applicants who applied for loan guarantees, and for all the letters the agency had sent to the IRS inquiring after the creditworthiness of the loan applicants.

The Energy Department’s Credit Review Board is required to determine the creditworthiness of a company applying for a loan. This is most commonly done by requesting tax delinquency information from government agencies such as the IRS.

Cause of Action was given 131 letters that the IRS submitted in response to the DOE’s tax delinquency requests for loan applicants. This means there should have been 131 corresponding letters from the DOE to match the IRS records. However, the DOE only has corresponding letters for eleven of the 131 letters — meaning it was missing 120 corresponding letters to the IRS.

The DOE told CoA that it does not actually maintain letters it sends to the IRS.

“It is a template letter the Administrative Assistant deletes the latest PII information from the template and replaces it with the new PII information and sends the letter request to the IRS. She does not maintain hard or electronic copies of each letter. IRS would be the best source for copies of the DOE letter to IRS letter,” according to the DOE.

Epstein argues that this failure to maintain records violates the Federal Records Act.

“The loan applicant information DOE sought from the Internal Revenue Service are records under the Federal Records Act,” Epstein told the DCNF.

Tax delinquency ignored

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