WASHINGTON (CBS/AP) — The White House on Friday ordered an independent review of clean-energy loans made by the Energy Department, its latest response to questions and criticism over a half-billion-dollar loan to a Fremont solar company that eventually went bankrupt.
The announcement of an independent review came as House Republicans prepared to meet next week for a possible vote on a subpoena of White House documents related to Solyndra Inc.
White House officials said the independent review would assess the health of other loans and loan guarantees made by the Energy Department program that supported Solyndra. Congressional Republicans have been investigating the company’s bankruptcy amid embarrassing revelations that federal officials were warned it had problems but nonetheless continued to support it, and sent President Barack Obama out to appear at the company and praise it.
“Today we are directing that an independent analysis be conducted of the current state of the Department of Energy loan portfolio, focusing on future loan monitoring and management,” White House chief of staff Bill Daley said. “While we continue to take steps to make sure the United States remains competitive in the 21st century energy economy, we must also ensure that we are strong stewards of taxpayer dollars.”
Daley said the review would be conducted by former Treasury official Herb Allison, who oversaw the Troubled Asset Relief Program. The review would not look at the Solyndra case but would evaluate other loans worth tens of billions of dollars and recommend steps to stabilize them if they appear to have problems like the one to Solyndra did.
The White House has already refused a request by the Republican-controlled House Energy and Commerce Committee for all its internal communications about Solyndra.
Reps. Fred Upton of Michigan and Cliff Stearns of Florida said the subpoena was necessary because the White House has denied its requests for documents. Upton chairs the Energy and Commerce panel, while Stearns leads a subcommittee on investigations. Recently released emails and other documents show that White House officials participated in decisions regarding the Solyndra loan.
“What is the White House trying to hide from the American public?” Stearns and Upton asked in a statement. “It is alarming for the Obama White House to cast aside its vows of transparency and block Congress from learning more about the roles that those in the White House and other members of the administration played in the Solyndra mess.”
The panel is seeking documents that might shed light on actions by White House officials in connection with the original loan to Solyndra Inc. as well as a restructuring of the deal that took place earlier this year.
The Obama administration has released thousands of emails—but withheld thousands more—concerning the $528 million loan made to Solyndra. To date, the administration says it has produced 70,000 pages, participated in nine briefings for congressional committee staff and provided testimony at four House committee hearings.
White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler has previously said that the committee leaders’ request for more documents has implications for “long-standing and significant institutional executive branch confidentiality interests.” The White House also said it would not release Obama’s BlackBerry messages—which if released would be a presidential first.
Any subpoena of White House records could trigger a claim of executive privilege by the Obama administration and elevate the political stakes, although the issue could also be resolved through negotiations.
The loan is being investigated by two House committees, which have released Solyndra-related documents from federal agencies including the Energy and Treasury departments and the Office of Management and Budget.
Solyndra is under criminal investigation by the FBI. Inspectors general at the U.S. Treasury and the Energy Department also are investigating.
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