DOE Officials Let An Employee Charge Taxpayers For His $138K Law Degree

Michael Bastasch | Energy Editor

An Energy Department engineer got the agency to foot the $138,000 bill for law school courses that “were unrelated to his position,” according to federal auditors.

The engineer “left the Department for work in the private sector shortly after receiving his law degree in May 2013,” investigators found, because Energy Department officials “had not considered the use of a continued service agreement for this employee despite the fact that he had taken extensive training at considerable cost.”

The Energy Department’s Office of Fossil Energy is supposed to help commercialize advanced energy technologies, but the office also “paid for 29 college courses, totaling approximately $138,000, for a general engineer to obtain a law degree” from 2009 to 2013, according to a recent inspector general report.

The Energy Department funds training programs for employees as long as they are “mission oriented,” so auditors were a little perplexed when senior management allowed an engineer to get a law degree that had little to do with his job.

“This employee enrolled in three to four law-related courses a semester at the American University in Washington, DC,” reads the inspector general’s report. “Based on our review, we concluded that a majority of the courses taken by the employee were unrelated to his position at the Department.”

Auditors found the Office of Fossil Energy “had sufficient review/approval policies and procedures in place” to stop situations like this, but for some reason “these controls were overridden by senior management officials in the approval chain at the time.”

Some officials questioned using taxpayer dollars so an engineer could get a law degree, but “senior management officials verbally directed them to approve the training requests.”

Why did senior management make the decision? Auditors don’t know, since “no documentation existed to explain why senior management officials directed training officials to approve the courses.”

Moreover, auditors “were unable to interview these management officials because they had left the agency,” according to the report.

President Donald Trump’s budget proposal called for cutting the Office of Fossil Energy’s budget 54 percent, from $618 million in 2017 to $280 million in 2018. The president’s critics said the budget cuts would hurt prospects for clean coal technology.

Congress is unlikely to go along with the cuts, since even Republican members benefit from doling out cash to various energy projects in their districts.

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