Bonneville Power chief removed after probe shows illegal hiring practices

Source: Katherine Ling, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Department of Energy has removed the top executive of the Bonneville Power Administration after an audit uncovered illegal hiring practices at the federal nonprofit agency.

In an email to employees yesterday, DOE said Elliot Mainzer, deputy administrator, would step in as acting chief, replacing Bill Drummond.

The email didn’t mention Drummond or the reason for his replacement. Drummond was appointed to direct BPA six months ago after the retirement of longtime Administrator Steve Wright.

But DOE’s inspector general released a report today that says Bonneville appears to have engaged in practices that disadvantaged military veterans and other applicants in violation of federal rules to ensure that veterans receive preferential treatment in hiring.

The audit found Bonneville engaged in prohibited personnel practices in 65 percent of its competitive recruitments from November 2010 to June 2012. Plus, the report says, when an independent study and Bonneville’s personnel department confirmed the discrepancies, BPA still did not notify affected applicants or attempt to fix the issue.

BPA management also appears to have taken personnel actions against employees who cooperated with the IG’s review after the initial anonymous complaint was filed in June 2012, the IG said.

In a written response to the audit, DOE said it has suspended any adverse actions against BPA employees for their cooperation with the inspector general and has directed an immediate review of BPA management.

BPA manages the wholesale electrical power from 31 federal hydro projects in the Columbia River Basin, a nonfederal nuclear plant and several other small nonfederal power plants, as well as three-quarters of the high-voltage transmission in a service territory that stretches from Washington state to parts of Montana and Wyoming and then south to Northern California and Nevada. Roughly, a third of the electric power used in the Northwest is drawn from BPA.

BPA acting Administrator Mainzer has been with BPA since 2002, serving in a variety of management positions with the agency’s Power, Transmission and Corporate organizations, DOE said.

Drummond previously worked as manager of the Western Montana Electric Generating and Transmission Cooperative for 17 years before joining BPA in 2011.

Drummond and Chief Operating Officer Anita Decker have been placed on leave, according to the Portland Oregonian newspaper.

Citing a need to consult with DOE’s legal team, a department spokesman said he couldn’t comment this morning.

This isn’t the first time DOE’s hiring practices have come under fire. A 2010 IG investigation found a contract employee was preselected for a senior position in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (Greenwire, Sept. 27, 2010).

More recently, a senior official helped secure competitive internships for his three children at the agency, and the IG indicated that there was a more widespread problem of nepotism (Greenwire, June 10).