Watchdog: DOE funding delays created ‘uncertainty’ for projects

Watchdog: DOE funding delays created ‘uncertainty’ for projects

The Trump administration’s delays in funding projects for a Department of Energy (DOE) program created significant uncertainty for funding recipients, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found.

All of the projects that were supposed to get funds from the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) eventually got their money.

But the review program that the Trump administration undertook for several months last year to figure out if the projects fit within the new administration’s priorities caused a great deal of problems.

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“DOE’s financial assistance review process created uncertainty, which led to a variety of impacts — the most frequently cited of which were potentially delayed project timelines and difficulties staffing project teams,” the GAO said in a Wednesday report, citing 10 funding recipients it picked to interview.

“Selectees told us that they received little communication from ARPA-E during the review process, and they indicated that additional information about review timelines and potential effects on their awards would have helped them manage some of the uncertainty they experienced during the review process.”

One recipient told GAO that they needed to restart an extensive, months-long hiring process, while another said they nearly missed an annual planting season.

Most organizations delayed some hiring and four of them had trouble keeping staff onboard. Numerous recipients said they likely lost some competitive edge.

But, importantly, GAO said the delays did not violate the Impoundment Control Act, a law that limits the executive branch’s ability to stop funding for programs.

The DOE defended its review of the ARPA-E projects in a statement.

"Ultimately, all commitments to ARPA-E programs were honored. The GAO report today made no recommendations to DOE and confirms that the department did not illegally withhold funding," DOE spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes said in the statement.

"DOE remains committed to funding early-stage research and development in a responsible manner."

An earlier GAO report said that another action related to ARPA-E, in which the DOE refused to provide certain funds for a period of time, did violate the Impoundment Control Act.

Sen. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellSenate votes to extend key funding mechanism for parks White House poised to take action on AI, 5G Overnight Energy: States press Trump on pollution rules | EPA puts climate skeptic on science board | Senate tees up vote on federal lands bill MORE (Wash.), the top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said Wednesday’s report shows that Energy Secretary Rick PerryJames (Rick) Richard PerryThe Hill's 12:30 Report: State of the Union takeaways | Sights and sounds from the night | Virginia attorney general admits he wore blackface Energy Secretary Rick Perry is designated survivor for 2019 State of the Union Live coverage: Trump delivers State of the Union MORE was playing political games.

“This Government Accountability Office report confirms that by arbitrarily withholding funding, the Department of Energy created uncertainty for small business, risking millions of dollars of investments and needlessly threatened the jobs of hardworking Americans,” she said in a statement.

“Secretary Perry should stop playing political games when funding science and research. I will be closely watching to ensure that he does just that.”

— This story was updated at 5:20 p.m.