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Watchdog: Trump officials improperly withheld funds for advanced energy office

Watchdog: Trump officials improperly withheld funds for advanced energy office

A federal watchdog says the Trump administration improperly withheld funding from a Department of Energy (DOE) research office this year ahead of proposed funding cuts for the office.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) found the Trump administration violated federal spending laws when it did not allocate $91 million in appropriated funding this year for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), which researches advanced energy.

Once GAO informed DOE about the investigation, the department spent the funds, according to the GAO's report.

In his first budget, President TrumpDonald John TrumpDeath toll in Northern California wildfire rises to 48: authorities Graham backs bill to protect Mueller Denham loses GOP seat in California MORE proposed drawing down funding for ARPA-E and eventually shutting down the office by 2019.

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Earlier this year, ARPA-E withheld $91 million in funds it was obligated to spend, a move that caught the eye of congressional Democrats. Lawmakers, including Rep. Eddie Bernice JohnsonEddie Bernice JohnsonHow will the 2018 midterms affect NASA space policy? Pro-environment Democrats gain influence in Congress and states, but lose key GOP allies Overnight Energy: Trump expects to weigh in on Zinke's future soon | EPA relaxes air permitting standard | House Science panel in for big changes | Update on midterm ballot measures MORE (D-Texas), asked the GAO to investigate the matter.

In a report sent to Congress late Tuesday, GAO said ARPA-E officials told investigators that “the Department of Energy had directed ARPA-E to withhold the obligation” in light of Trump’s proposed cuts, which Congress did not follow through on.

The acting general counsel of DOE told the GAO that “limited oral conversations regarding whether to withhold any budget authority in the ARPA-E appropriation … did occur.” But the counsel’s office instructed the department to spend the funds in light of GAO’s investigation.

The watchdog concluded that withholding funding for the department violated a federal law that sets strict requirements for when an executive agency can block congressionally appropriated funding.

“I hope that the administration now understands that federal agencies must provide lawfully directed appropriations to the programs to which they are dedicated,” Johnson, the ranking member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, said in a statement.

“It cannot attempt to shut down an agency or starve a program it doesn’t like by withholding funds. It is illegal and we in Congress will not allow it.”