Watchdog Files Follow Up Complaint Raising Further Apparent Violations of Ethics Obligations by Head of Multi-Billion Dollar DOE Office
Today, federal watchdog Protect the Public’s Trust announced it has filed another complaint with the Office of the Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Energy regarding repeated possible ethics violations by Acting Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Kelly Speakes-Backman. Today’s complaint inquires whether Ms. Speakes-Backman continued to violate prohibitions against endorsing her former employer and its member organizations more than a month after an initial notice and inquiry was sent to ethics officials at DOE.
In its original letter, Protect the Public’s Trust revealed several instances in which Ms. Speakes-Backman, who served as CEO of the Energy Storage Association (ESA) before her political appointment, may have violated ethics commitments and the Biden Ethics Pledge. She appeared on a number of occasions to have participated in events in which she either endorsed her former employer or was sponsored by a major donor or board member of ESA. The Department declined to respond to PPT’s previous letter and subsequent media inquiries, and failed to produce public records regarding the senior political appointee’s conduct, in violation of federal law.
Despite notice alerting DOE officials to this potentially improper behavior, Ms. Speakes-Backman appeared to continue the same conduct with another ESA board member-sponsored keynote address delivered to a non-public, paid-admission-only conference of energy storage industry participants seeking taxpayer funds for their various corporate endeavors. Based on the substance and alarming facts discovered in the investigation into Ms. Speakes-Backman’s most recent use of her official position to advance the interests of her former employer and its members, Protect the Public’s Trust has filed an official complaint with agency’s Inspector General.
“At DOE, the head of an office that is poised to oversee more than $4 billion (a 50 percent bump) per the Biden Administration’s budget request seems unable to avoid situations in which she appears to endorse her former employer and its donors,” Director of Protect the Public’s Trust, Michael Chamberlain, stated. “The pattern is so blatant a neutral observer is left wondering whether Ms. Speakes-Backman ever participates in events that DON’T involve her former employer or its board members. Given the ethics concerns around Secretary Granholm’s continuing to hold Proterra stock options while the administration promoted the company, and the Biden Administration’s claim of being the most ethical in history, the American public can rightfully ask why DOE is not taking these repeated apparent ethics violations more seriously.”
The American public deserves to know:
- Whether or not Ms. Speakes-Backman has endorsed, intentionally or otherwise, her former employer and its members while speaking in her official capacity at any of the events identified in PPT’s earlier complaint and as such violated 5 CFR § 2635.702.
- Whether Ms. Speakes-Backman was aware that one of her former employer’s “Leadership Council Members” was the lone sponsor for the portion of the conference where Ms. Speakes-Backman was the keynote speaker on April 21, 2021. Whether she was aware that her former employer’s board member NextEra Energy Resources was the lone sponsor of her keynote presentation on June 22, 2021.
- Whether she relayed any of this information to ethics officials prior to accepting the invitations to speak. If so, what guidance, if any, did the Ethics Office provide to Ms. Speakes-Backman about possible conflicts and/or an appearance of a conflict of interest that could result from her acceptance of these invitations? Did she provide her prepared remarks for ethics approval prior to accepting these invitations and attending the events?
- Whether Ms. Speakes-Backman sought guidance or received counseling to avoid participating in events that present an inherent appearance of a conflict of interest or endorsement of a former employer’s member.
- Whether Ms. Speakes-Backman is participating in particular matters involving her former employer or board members that may violate federal law, regulations or the Biden Ethics Pledge. In exploring this question, all records of meetings and particular matters that Ms. Speakes-Backman is or has been involved in should be reviewed and, at the appropriate time, provided to the public for review.
- Whether the current process for political appointees at DOE such as Ms. Speakes-Backman includes appropriately communicating with ethics officials for all public speaking engagements and whether they are appropriately informed of the particular matters they should recuse themselves from prior to deliberating, deciding, or acting upon.
- Whether Ms. Speakes-Backman plans to continue participating in events sponsored by her former employer’s board members and donors. Is this a practice condoned by DOE ethics officials and consistent with past practice for senior government officials?