As DOE Doubled Down and Restructured Solyndra's Loan, White House Pulls Plug on Ex-GSA Chief's Planned Visit to Solyndra in February 2011

April 19, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC - Documents recently gathered from the General Services Administration in response to the House Energy and Commerce Committee's investigation into DOE's $535 million loan guarantee to Solyndra reveal that former GSA Administrator Martha Johnson, after cancelling a planned visit to Solyndra in late October 2010 because of the solar company's intention to announce layoffs, had scheduled another visit for February 25, 2011. According to internal GSA documents, Administrator Johnson's February 2011 visit was cancelled at the urging of the White House. Johnson's planned visit was scheduled at the same time as DOE was working behind the scenes to restructure Solyndra's loan guarantee, which violated the plain letter of the law and put the company's investors ahead of taxpayers. 

Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Cliff Stearns requested the documents from GSA in December 2011 as part of the ongoing investigation. The committee had learned DOE Loan Programs chief Jonathan Silver had directly connected GSA with Solyndra's CEO in July 2010 as Solyndra was seeking government contracts to prop up the failing business.

"It is a stunning disconnect for the White House to recognize that Solyndra was too radioactive for the GSA Chief to visit in February 2011, but it was still suitable for DOE to double down on the bad bet and restructure the loan guarantee which violated the law and left taxpayers holding the bag on the half billion dollar bust," said Stearns.

Johnson had originally been scheduled to visit Solyndra on October 28, 2010, but the trip to Solyndra was apparently scrapped at the last minute due to the company's pending layoffs announcement, amid concerns by the Obama administration over the political fallout from the layoffs. Solyndra CEO Brian Harrison had informed DOE on October 25, 2010, that the company intended to announce layoffs three days later on Thursday, October 28, 2010.  DOE alerted senior officials at the White House, including climate czar Carol Browner and Vice President Biden's Chief of Staff Ron Klain. According to internal communications between Solyndra investors, including billionaire and Obama bundler George Kaiser, Argonaut's Steve Mitchell, and Ken Levit from the George Kaiser Family Foundation, DOE had urged the layoffs announcement be delayed until November 3, which was the day after the 2010 midterm elections.

According to documents, GSA Administrator Johnson was scheduled to tour Solyndra's manufacturing facilities at 10:00am and participate in an Energy Investment Working Group from 11:15am-1:20pm on February 25, 2011. Documents also reveal concern amongst senior GSA employees on the cancellation of Administrator Johnson's trip.

In one February 16, 2011, email exchange between several GSA employees, GSA Deputy Administrator Susan Brita asked, "can someone tell me why trip to Solyndra was cancelled?"

The GSA Press Secretary who had been coordinating directly with Solyndra officials on the trip's details replied directly to Brita, "White House told us to cancel b/c of last years lay offs."

Brita replied minutes later, "do they know how many were hired back???

The GSA Press Secretary answered, "I made every argument I could think of. WH made it very clear they didn't want us touching them with a 10 foot pole."

GSA Chief of Staff Michael Robertson later replied to the group, "The job loss they experienced. More off line," indicating that he had more to share outside the record keeping of GSA's email system.

The following morning, on February 17, 2011, Brita replied to the GSA Press Secretary, "Interesting. I would suspect more than just job lay-offs."

Later that afternoon, a Solyndra lobbyist forwarded Deputy Administrator Brita an online story from The Hill with the headline, "Upton targets DOE solar loan guarantee," which reported the Energy and Commerce Committee was launching an investigation into the risky half billion dollar loan guarantee to Solyndra. During the email exchange with Solyndra's lobbyist, Brita writes, "wonder how WH knew."

Although GSA Administrator Johnson did not visit Solyndra in February 2011, DOE finalized Solyndra's restructuring on February 23, 2011. Solyndra announced bankruptcy nearly six months later, leaving taxpayers on the hook for the Obama administrations risky half billion dollar bet. 

View documents related to GSA Administrator Martha Johnson's planned February 25, 2011, visit to Solyndra HERE.

View documents related to GSA Administrator Martha Johnson's planned October 28, 2010, visit to Solyndra HERE.

View Jonathan Silver's July 15, 2010, email connecting GSA and Solyndra HERE.

View Solyndra CEO Brian Harrison's October 25, 2010, email informing DOE of his intention to announce layoffs October 28, 2010 HERE.

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