Abuses need consequences.
The U.S. Department of Energy's Inspector General reported in July that the Bonneville Power Administration had broken the rules for hiring employees, in some cases resulting in discrimination against military veterans, and punished whistle-blowers who tried to bring the violations to light. Now the (Portland) Oregonian reports that two BPA executives who were placed on administrative leave after the report was released have been offered other jobs in the Energy Department. The public is in the dark about what's going on, who's responsible and what consequences will follow.
The IG's report told of job applicants' rankings being manipulated, including the preference that is supposed to be given to veterans, resulting in potentially hundreds of cases of discrimination. In one example a job opening that had been announced was closed, and then reopened with an altered description of the position that excluded the best-qualified candidate, a veteran. The report also described an executive as ignoring a BPA employee's complaints about hiring processes, and then allowing another manager to move ahead with plans to fire the whistle-blower.
The IG report named no names, referring only to "senior BPA managers" and saying that abuses arose from the agency's management culture. Yet two top BPA executives, Administrator Bill Drummond and Chief Operating Officer Anita Decker, were placed on administrative leave pending an investigation. Now these same two executives have been offered the opportunity to move to other perches in the Energy Department's bureaucratic shrubbery.
Someone is being wronged here. It could be Drummond and Decker: If they have been cleared, the Energy Department should say so. It could be the victims of discrimination: If Drummond and Decker are culpable, they should be disciplined or fired, depending on their degree of responsibility.
Without more information, it's hard to draw the lines of accountability. Drummond became administrator just this year, replacing Steve Wright, who had led the BPA since 2000. Decker spent part of the period covered by the report working outside the BPA. Wright, now the manager of a public utility in Wenatchee, Wash., says he did nothing wrong while leading the BPA, saying only that "mistakes were made that need to be corrected."
That passive construction makes it sound as though mistakes happen all by themselves, and blurs the vital distinction between errors and violations. Blaming management culture obscures the fact that the culture is made up of managers, and relieves top executives of accountability.
The Energy Department has directed the BPA to review 1,200 hiring decisions involving more than 20,000 applicants. Some of those applicants may have a basis for lawsuits or compensation claims, and both would come at ratepayers' expense.
A larger cost might come if control of the BPA is shifted to Washington, D.C., from its headquarters in Portland. Congressmen from the region have fought efforts to divert the BPA's power or revenues away from the Northwest for most of a century. Such a shift would threaten regional control of a regional resource - the 31 hydroelectric dams and transmission lines that form the backbone of the Northwest's electric infrastructure. Now the BPA has made itself harder to defend.
Fairness demands that the Energy Department act soon to identify those responsible for the hiring violations, and discipline them accordingly.