General Services Administration officials – now embroiled in an agency scandal over lavish spending – pursued contracts with Fremont-based Solyndra despite orders from White House officials to cease contact with the failing solar panel company, according to e-mails released as part of a congressional investigation.
Jonathan Silver, who has since resigned as loan programs director for the Energy Department, put the GSA in contact with Solyndra, the documents show. Silver wrote Bob Peck, public buildings commissioner for the GSA, regarding Solyndra.
"You and your team are doing amazing things!" Silver wrote to Peck in an e-mail dated July 15, 2010, copied to Chris Gronet, then-CEO of Solyndra. "Your two teams will have a lot to discuss."
Peck replied to Silver the same day, writing, "I'll try to arrange" meetings between the GSA's "hands on green management people" and Solyndra officials. Peck pointed out that the agency recently had received $5.5 billion from the stimulus bill. "Give me a point of contact for the Solyndra people and we'll contact them directly," Peck wrote to Silver.
Help us do more.
Peck was one of the GSA officials recently fired over the agency's spending on travel and perks.
The e-mails were released earlier this year as part of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's investigation into the failed Solyndra loan.
Solyndra, which received a $535 million stimulus-financed loan from the Department of Energy, had long sought the GSA as a partner in an effort to place its cylindrical solar panels on government buildings. The agency manages all federal government buildings nationwide.
President Barack Obama visited Solyndra in May 2010, calling the solar company "the true engine of economic growth."
But as the White House became aware of Solyndra's deteriorating finances, the GSA was told to ease off cooperating with Solyndra, according to several e-mails. An Oct. 25 visit by Martha Johnson, then chief of the agency, was canceled after the White House learned that Solyndra planned to lay off nearly 200 employees before the November 2010 election, according to the e-mails.
Those e-mails show Johnson apparently tried to reschedule a meeting with Solyndra officials in February 2011, just when the Energy Department was wrapping up a controversial restructuring of Solyndra's loan, which allowed $75 million to be collected by the company's top investors before taxpayers would be paid. The White House again told the GSA to back off, according to the e-mails.
"Can somebody tell me why trip to Solyndra was cancelled?" Susan Brita, deputy administrator for the GSA, wrote in an e-mail to an unnamed GSA press secretary on Feb. 16, 2011. She wrote she had met Solyndra officials "several times."
The agency's press secretary, whose named was redacted in the e-mails, responded, "I made every argument I could think of, the WH made it very clear they didn't want us touching them with a 10-foot pole."
Johnson, who was appointed by Obama to lead the agency in April 2009, stepped down this month after a scathing report [PDF] by the agency's inspector general that reported that "taxpayer dollars were squandered" in Las Vegas and elsewhere in 2010.
Another agency official, Jeffrey Neely, acting regional administrator for the Pacific Rim, also planned visits with Solyndra.
"I'll probably be taking my leadership group down to Fremont, CA to see their plant," Neely, who was based in San Francisco, wrote in an e-mail to Johnson and Brita on Nov. 10, 2010. "I was impressed by them and the product they are manufacturing and selling," Neely wrote.
Neely organized the $823,000 conference at the M Resort, Spa and Casino just outside of Las Vegas that was cited in the GSA inspector general's report. He is now on administrative leave pending investigations by the GSA and Congress.