BPA chief resigns in wake of hiring scandal

Source: Emily Yehle, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, January 10, 2014

The head of the Bonneville Power Administration recently resigned in the wake of a scandal over the agency’s illegal hiring practices

Bill Drummond “is no longer an employee at the Department of Energy,” according to a DOE official. His tenure was short-lived; he spent less than six months leading the agency before DOE placed him on administrative leave in July.

The former utility executive is part of the fallout from a scathing inspector general report that found BPA had discriminated against military veterans and violated hiring practices for years. The agency now must run hiring decisions by DOE, after Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz instituted a new pecking order (Greenwire, Oct. 25, 2013).

But the bad practices occurred primarily under Drummond’s predecessor, Steve Wright. Wright left the agency in January 2013 and is now general manager at the Chelan County Public Utility District. He has said he made none of the “specific decisions” at issue (Greenwire, Oct. 24, 2013).

Elliot Mainzer, BPA’s deputy administrator, has overseen the agency since DOE put Drummond on leave in July. Mainzer will continue as acting administrator, according to DOE, but officials have made no further personnel decisions.

DOE may be eyeing Mainzer has a permanent replacement. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) supports that move; his office has told DOE “that Mr. Mainzer is the right choice to lead Bonneville going forward,” said Wyden spokesman Keith Chu.

Drummond first joined BPA in 2011 as deputy administrator, after 17 years as manager of the Western Montana Electric Generating and Transmission Cooperative. Many former BPA colleagues and utility industry insiders think Drummond was made a scapegoat and got “a raw deal,” according to The Oregonian, which has closely followed the scandal.

But with Drummond’s exit, DOE will no doubt focus on restoring BPA’s reputation, while assuring Congress — and, in particular, Northwestern lawmakers — that the department does not intend to take away BPA’s autonomy. While technically part of DOE, BPA has a distinct mission of providing electric power to the Northwest, and lawmakers have made clear they don’t want DOE to micromanage.