The Solyndra fiasco reveals the financial pitfalls of using government subsidies to pick winners (and losers) in the energy market. But internal e-mails now surfacing from the administration demonstrate another, associated problem: the heavy politicization of the career ranks within the executive branch.
Today’s Washington Post has a story about how an OMB career official warned in an e-mail on January 31, 2011, that they needed “to flag to DOE at the highest levels the stakes involved” in Solyndra’s looming financial collapse. The e-mail does not show much concern over the potential loss to taxpayers of half a billion dollars. No, what concerns the supposedly nonpartisan career civil servant is the “optics” of such a loss due to the “PR and policy attention Solyndra has received since 2009.” The bureaucrat writes, “If Solyndra defaults down the road, the optics will arguably be worse later than they would be today.”
In fact, “the timing will likely coincide with the 2012 campaign season heating up, whereas a default today could be put in the context of (and perhaps even get some credit for) fiscal discipline/good government because the Administration would be limiting further taxpayer exposure letting bad projects go, and could make public steps it is taking to learn lessons and improve/limit future lending.”
In other words, this career civil servant is concerned that a default coinciding “with the 2012 campaign season” could hurt the president’s reelection effort. That is his biggest worry, not what is in the best financial interests of the American people. As Lachlan Markay writes over at the Heritage Foundation, “The Administration was essentially letting the 2012 campaign dictate decisions on the federal government’s financial involvement with Solyndra. They were not responding to normal profit-and-loss signals.”
But then, this is just par for the course the federal government has followed for some time. Liberals like to paint the federal civil service as filled with nonpartisan, objective public servants. That is a complete myth.