Oregon senator, lawyers on quest seeking accountability in BPA hiring discrimination

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Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden says his lawyers are exploring whether executives from the Bonneville Power Administration should be held accountable for a hiring discrimination scandal.

The agency is the largest electricity provider in the Northwest and controls about 75 percent of the region's transmission lines.

According to a scathing report from the Department of Energy's Inspector General, in at least 117 cases the BPA failed to follow rules that require federal agencies to give hiring preference to qualified veterans.

Two top executives at BPA appeared to take the fall initially for the hiring problems: BPA administrator Bill Drummond and Chief Operating Officer Anita Decker were placed on leave in July.

But The Oregonian and The Hill newspapers reported this week that the Department of Energy has moved the BPA officials into new jobs in Washington, D.C. The reports are based on anonymous sources, and the Department of Energy refused OPB's request for a comment.

Wyden said civil service laws may protect Drummond and Decker, but he's asked his lawyers to look into the issue.

"I'm going to make sure that justice is done here, and I'm of the view that if someone is found to be discriminating against a veteran they shouldn't work for the federal government," he said.

Decker and Drummond's supporters say the Department of Energy never directly linked them to the discrimination, and never explained why they were placed on leave.

Scott Corwin, the Executive Director of the Public Power Council, said it's frustrating the DOE has provided so few specifics.

"We know these are well respected, long-time leaders in the industry. In Bill Drummond's case, a lot of us have known him for many years, and he's one of the nicest people you'll meet anywhere. That's part of the strangeness of the situation," Corwin said.

Wyden said that in spite of the scandal, he will defend the Bonneville Power Administration's unique independence within the Department of Energy.

"When Washington, D.C., has tried to take control of Bonneville in the past, it has inevitably come up with proposals that have increased the cost of electricity in the Pacific Northwest. On my watch as chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, I am not going to let that happen," he said.

(Editor's note: This story originally appeared through the EarthFix public media collaboration.)