Sean Moulton is a Senior Policy Analyst at the Project on Government Oversight (POGO). We’ve invited Sean to discuss his recent report on how Increased Infrastructure Oversight Falls Short for the Biden Administration’s infrastructure law, while still being an important step forward. Sean explains how new oversight measures are implemented via executive order, which means they can easily be dismantled by future administrations, lacking the permanence and manifestation of consensus of legislation. Also, the new measures rely on executive branch officials accepting the advice of Inspectors General and fail to provide consistency across the multiple federal departments, state, county and local governments, and contracts, grants and loans across which trillions of infrastructure and climate money will be spent. These observations echo those in past podcasts by retired U.S. Treasury Inspector General Eric Thorson, and Contra Cost County Supervisor John Gioia.
Prior to POGO, Sean worked for over a decade on transparency and government accountability issues, leading the Center for Effective Government’s open government work for 13 years. The Center for Open Government, previously known as “OMB Watch”, pioneered making federal government spending visible to taxpayers through an online database. (“OMB” stands for Office of Management and Budget, an office within the White House that oversees the implementation of the President’s financial vision across the executive branch. OMB eventually licensed OMB Watch’s database technology to create usaspending.gov, a detailed, comprehensive and official accounting of federal government spending that’s open to the public.
For years, activists, scientists and politicians have fought to get enough federal funding to make a start to slow climate change and stop the incessant temperature climb of the planet. Although the job of getting money is far from done, the first large tranche of appropriated money from the infrastructure law is starting to be spent. This important money will only be effective if it is spent well and scandals and waste could affect the success of climate goals and deter future and follow-on appropriations. To do this correctly, there has to be strong and workable oversight structure either built into the legislation or established by the Executive Branch.
For this week's podcast episode, we are lucky to have Scott Amey from the Project on Government Oversight (POGO). He is one of the best people in Washington DC on how to build effective oversight into government and what has worked or not worked over his decades of experience. Every climate activist and the politicians who support climate change legislation should listen to Scott so that the federal government can be pushed to do it s job and make sure the money is well spent on realistic and effective projects. The whole system that is spending this money, clear down to state and local governments, has to be pushed from the inside and outside the federal government to make it work the first time. Scott has seen it all and he talks frankly about his concerns of what can happen when well intended money is spent badly. (full disclosure: Dina Rasor is the founder and was the first director of POGO and serves on its board of directors and Greg Williams worked as an investigator at POGO)
Scott Amey is POGO’s general counsel and executive editorial director. In addition to organizational legal demands, he oversees the investigations, research and policy teams, the Center for Defense Information (CDI), and The Constitution Project (TCP). Scott also participates in contract oversight investigations, including reviews of federal spending on products and services, the responsibility of federal contractors, and conflicts-of-interest and ethics concerns. Scott is an attorney and can practice law in Maryland.
In October of 2021, Scott was asked to testify before the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology’s Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight and Subcommittee on Energy on best practices for federal spending. This podcast provides reflection on that testimony, and his decades of experience.
Scott's October 21, 2021 before the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
The cost of installing an electric vehicle (EV) charger can vary from $400 to $150,000. Dave Mullaney of the Rocky Mountain Institute's Carbon-Free Mobility team takes us through their recent report - Reducing EV Charging Infrastructure Costs - to help us understand why, and how these costs can be reduced.
If you've ever installed an electric oven or clothes dryer where there wasn't one before, you have some idea what it's like to get the necessary 220 volt electrical source installed. Unless you've been involved in building a large factory, electrified rail line or commercial computing center, you probably don't know what it's like to get a megawatt or more of electrical infrastructure planned, funded, permitted and installed. Dave introduces us to some of what's involved and how we can make it less expensive, faster and more predictable.
Dave also explains why we should have different expectations for charging EV's than we have for fueling conventional gasoline and diesel powered cars. Whether you fill your tank all at once in a few minutes, or over several hours, it costs the same. Charging an EV is orders of magnitude less expensive if you do it overnight vs. all at once at the fastest available charging station. One the one hand, this will require big adjustments in people's expectations. On the other hand, wouldn't it be nice to wake up each morning to your car being fully charged, without having to go anywhere?
How Did DOE Waste Half a $Billion on Carbon Capture? Bob Bauman, former federal government investigator explains why.
As the federal government gears up to spend new climate money, it is vital to look at some of the failures in the past. This is especially true with carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) since the DOE announced last week that it plans to spend a whopping $3.5 billion on four new carbon capture demonstration plants. This week we meet with Bob Bauman, a veteran government investigator and auditor, to discuss how the Department of Energy (DOE) wasted nearly half a billion dollars on failed carbon capture and storage (CSS) technology demonstration projects in the past.
The failed CSS projects are described in a report released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in December 2021 called CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE: Actions Needed to Improve DOE Management of Demonstration Projects. CCS is a controversial technology with an unproven past and this GAO report is another cautionary tale on how climate money can be wasted away. As most in the climate community knows, we do not have time for do-overs and waste.
Bob uses his 30+ years as a government investigator to explain how this kind of waste occurs, and what it portends for the $3.5 billion the Department of Energy recently announced they're investing on behalf of U.S. taxpayers in CSS projects. Bob is the former partner of CMW Executive Director Dina Rasor in the Bauman & Rasor Group. They worked together on various federal fraud and waste projects for 27 years, espeically in bringing qui tam False Claims lawsuits on behalf of whistleblowers that returned over $200 million to the federal government and authored two investigative books together. Before running the Bauman and Rasor Group, Bob worked as an investigator for the federal government for 36 years including 12 years for the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS).
Reimagining Grid Resilience with Mark Dyson of the Rocky Mountain Institute: the national grid is vital to climate progress
There seems to be interest in our national electric grid only when it is damaged with major blackouts due to weather or hacking. Many overlook that very little of the ambitious efforts to move to 100 percent renewable energy or the change over to electric vehicles can't successfully work without an expanded and smarter grid. This is a foundation for the new world of climate change that we have to get right and use the money wisely or climate mitigation will slow or fail.
So this week we're joined by Mark Dyson, Managing Director for Carbon-Free Electricity at the Rocky Mountain Institute to discuss his recent report, Reimagining Grid Resilience. Mark describes how investing in distributed energy resources, such as "behind-the-meter" photovoltaic solar panels both do more to improve the resilience of the grid and provide carbon and cost reduction benefits when everything is operating well. These "blue sky" benefits pay dividends around the clock and around the year. On the other hand, "hardening" against outages ("black sky") only provides benefits when systems would otherwise be malfunctioning. Such vulnerabilities to the grid itself do exist, as were demonstrated by the 2013 Metcalf sniper attack in the United States and the 2015 Ukraine power grid hack, but efficiency, insulation, and residential wind and solar represent far greater potential.
Mark also comments on the thoughtfulness of grid funding programs that are part of the bipartisan infrastructure law, including Energy Improvement in Rural Areas, Preventing Outages and Enhancing the Resilience of the Electric Grid / Hazard Hardening, Program Upgrading Our Electric Grid and Ensuring Reliability and Resiliency and the Smart Grid Investment Matching Grant Program.
Solyndra: A Cautionary Tale. Listen to Eric Thorson, former Inspector General of the U.S. Treasury Department warn the climate community on oversight of programs
As many environmentalist know, fraud, abuse and waste can be a killer for important government programs and be used by climate antagonists, such as U.S. Senator Barrasso, as an excuse to limit spending on the climate crisis. Soylyndra, a federal loan guarantee program to manufacture solar panels during the Obama Administration was one such project. Senator Barrasso released a report last year using Solyndra as an excuse to not fund future climate projects. Although the federal loan program under Obama's Recovery Act overall ended up making the federal government more money than what they spent, the government lost $535 million when Solyndra went bankrupt.
This week the Climate Money Watchdog podcast will talk with Eric Thorson, the former Inspector General for the Department of Treasury, who actually did oversight on the Solyndra project. He sees the Solyndra failure as waste because the federal government, in a hurry to get the money spent and jobs created, did not do the due diligence on the project. In this podcast episode, he explains this and other reasons that federal programs can fail, before and after the government loans or appropriates the money. He also explains oversight needed before a project is approved and what to do if there is a problem after has started. Since the current climate money programs will include partnerships with state, local and private industry, the process is complicated and needs constant oversight all the entities involved, including informed and active climate advocates.
Eric Thorson served as the Inspector General of the U.S. Treasury through three presidents; George W. Bush, Barrack Obama, and Donald Trump. He also worked as an investigator for two U.S. Senate committees, served as the Inspector General for U.S. Small Business Administration as well as serving twice as Deputy Assistant Secretary for the U.S. Air Force. Eric also ran his own small business for executive jet services. He is currently an Executive Partner at the William and Mary College School of Business.
We hope that you will listen to this informative episode either through this website or you podcast portal of choice and will inform other climate people about this podcast episode on social media.
John Gioia, Local County Supervisor With Extensive Environmental Background, Talks With Climate Money Watchdog in New Podcast Episode
This week's episode of the Climate Money Watchdog's podcast features a long time environmental leader in local government. John Gioia (joy-a) is county supervisor for California's Contra Costa County representing 210,000 people in the San Francisco East Bay area, right across the Bay from San Francisco. He was elected in 1998 and has been re-elected five times with high margins. He has had many years of official work on environmental issues, including serving on regional government boards such as the California Air Resources Board, the Bay Area Quality Management District Board, the Bay Area Conservation and Development Board and is Vice Chair of the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority. This work has led him to have extensive experience working with state and federal funding at a local level and why we asked him to do a podcast episode with us to talk about ups and downs of working with all the requirements and issues that state and federal environmental funding bring to local government entities.
In this episode, we have wide ranging discussions of various issues that will be raised with increased climate and environmental funding. This includes a detailed discussion on the many complications of federal spending for electric vehicle charging stations. Publicly funded EV charging stations is one of the larger programs in the recently passed federal infrastructure law with $7.5 billion appropriated and $5 billion of that amount going to the states. This is one of the programs that Climate Money Watchdog is watching because of the amount of the funding mixed with the complexity of local, state and federal governments working together. Supervisor Gioia gives great insight to the complex issues that arise for local governments to make these types of appropriations a success.
Supervisor Gioia grew up in the diverse city of Richmond, California and has a BA degree from the University of California, Berkeley where he also earned a law degree.
We hope that you will listen to this unique episode with a local government official who brings up issues that many in the national climate movement may not have thought about. Supervisor Gioia is my county supervisor and I look forward to his advice as we continue to follow and investigate on how the climate money is spent.
Dina Rasor, Executive Director of Climate Money Watchdog.
Danielle Brian of the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) is this week's guest on the Climate Money Watchdog’s podcast.
Danielle Brian is the Executive Director of the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) and is considered one of the most authoritative people who watchdogs the spending of the federal government. In fact, yesterday (April 27) she was named by Washingtonian Magazine as one of the most influential people in good government. Dina Rasor founded POGO and Danielle Brian took over the executive director position from Dina Rasor in 1993. She worked at POGO with Dina in the 1980s and with Greg Williams, the Chief Operating Officer of Climate Money Project. We are delighted that she did this podcast and passed on her valuable knowledge so that the climate community can benefit from her experience in not only passing appropriations but also how to put in safeguards and oversight so that the money is spent well with as little of fraud and waste as possible.
In this episode, we will talk about Danielle’s knowledge and concerns of what can happen when the federal government spends a large amount of money, like the recent climate appropriations, without the bureaucracy now being ready to process and oversee the spending, the pros and cons of the federal Inspectors General ability to audit and investigate large amounts of new money, how the Congress and the Executive Branch can out in safeguards for spending transparency and prevent unnecessary fraud and waste, and the important role of whistleblowers and anonymous sources in this process.
We would love your feedback and suggestions on our podcast episodes as well as suggestions of anyone you think would help the climate community better understand how the climate money should be spent and overseen. We will be bringing you a myriad of experts, scientists, attorneys, local, state and federal officials, and advocates to help all of us prepare to make climate money work well.
If you like what you hear, please sign up to receive our podcast episodes and please tweet on Twitter and post on Facebook our podcast link to help us get this information out to the people who are determined to make climate mitigation work. Thanks!
Tomorrow (April 21), we will be launching the first episode of our podcast featuring the inestimable Bill McKibben, a top leader in the climate field. Next week on Thursday, we will have Danielle Brian of the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), the organization that I founded and serve on their board. Danielle is one of the best experts on spending and oversight of federal money. Greg Williams and I have also recorded an episode to explain the goals of Climate Money Watchdog and why we believe that our mission is so vital.
The Climate Money Watchdog podcast will feature people who know about the successes and pitfalls of government spending in many fields and others who know the various and complicated issues surrounding the climate emergency and know what can go wrong with either the technical, practical, or political in the climate debate. You can get the podcast from the Climate Money Watchdog website blog or the link to our podcast page on the website. We will be listed in most of the usual podcast distributors.
More about us: we are a non-profit, non-partisan organization. The goal of CMW is to follow and watch government spending on climate issues to ensure that the precious spending on climate actually goes to solutions to the pending climate meltdown. We are doing investigations into various topics and problems, launching this podcast on pitfalls of climate spending that could lead to waste, fraud and abuse, and will become a place where sources and whistleblowers can come to seek public or anonymous help in exposing problems. We are also solutions oriented and will work to inform the public and the government where there are problems and potential solutions. Check out our goals and our new introduction video on this website.
Getting the necessary climate appropriations passed is an issue that many groups have been working on for decades. However, given the urgency and importance of this issue, there is little room for fraud and waste which can be used by climate skeptics to kill off the necessary funding to get the job done. (Remember Solyndra?)
If you like what you hear and read, I would like to ask you to help us in getting the word out. We have a Twitter page @WatchdogClimate and a Facebook page under my name, Dina Rasor, with a CMW logo. I would really appreciate it if you could go to the pages to follow and befriend us and retweet it and send it to friends to get the word out about our work and podcast. And if you know of anyone who would be interested in supporting us financially, please have them contact our Director of Operations, Greg Williams, firstname.lastname@example.org. If you or anyone else would like to make a donation of any size, we have a donate page on our website and an introductory video on our efforts. All contributions are tax deductible. Many people who know me realize that asking for money has always been a stumbling block, but I will set that aside for this important work.
That’s it! Thanks for reading this and please check out our podcast. I would love to hear from all of you for reactions and suggestions on this new endeavor.
Climate Money Watchdog
Through generous donor support, and by driving hard bargains with our vendors, we have put in place insurance and everything else we need to officially launch in April of 2022. Keep an eye on our web site for an episode schedule soon and look forward to downloading our podcasts from fifteen of the most popular podcast platforms, including Apple, Amazon and Google. Visit our Podcast Directory Listings page for a full list.
Whether you've donated before, or are new to Climate Money Watchdog, and you value our pressing work and investigations in our podcasts and web site; we hope you will contribute. We plan to release episodes on a weekly basis and will post a schedule soon.
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