Citing continued lack of transparency, watchdog group calls for further scrutiny into the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) purchase and use of luxury aircraft
Knoxville, Tenn. – In a follow up to the Office of the Inspector General’s (OIG) March 28, 2018 Audit Report, TVA Fixed Wing Aircraft, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) has submitted a letter to TVA’s Acting Inspector General requesting an expanded audit to include TVA’s purchases of a luxury helicopter in 2015 and a second Cessna Citation jet in 2017. SACE also requests that the OIG perform a formal investigation of five TVA aircraft to determine whether CEO Bill Johnson, TVA executive staff, and/or TVA board members may have engaged in fraud and/or abuse and whether any violation of federal or company statutes and/or policies occurred through their use of TVA aircraft. As outlined in the attached graphic, the basis for these requests is that the initial audit was far too limited in scope and only analysed the purchase and use of two of TVA’s multiple aircraft.
Despite these limitations, the March audit from OIG provides a sharp criticism of TVA, revealing multiple violations by TVA. As explained in this blog published by SACE “The OIG audit clearly shows that TVA could not justify the 2015 purchase of one jet (N560GJ), and yet Johnson went out and bought a second jet in 2017 (N561PG)â?¦ These purchases follow a growing pattern of extraordinary salary and bonuses paid to TVA’s top executives including CEO Bill Johnson as the highest paid federal employee in the nation, currently receiving over $6.5 million dollars annuallyâ?¦. TVA may have violated federal laws and regulations in using Cessna jets for personal use, including carrying CEO Bill Johnson on trips to his second home in Raleigh, N.C. and to carry spouses of TVA’s CEO and TVA’s top executives.” New information obtained from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) since the OIG audit revealed that additional personal flights to Raleigh, N.C. where taken by CEO Johnson. The number is now at 31 in approximately three years. FAA records also show that various TVA aircraft flew to Oxford, Miss., home of TVA Board Chairman Richard Howorth, no less than 76 times between 2013-2017, yet another potential instance of abuse and/or fraud.
Many questions remain, including what happened outside the selected time frame and what circumstances were surrounding the purchase and use of additional TVA aircraft. SACE has attempted to uncover this information via Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests on four of the five aircraft, but TVA has delayed or denied these requests, which makes continued investigation by the OIG even more imperative. SACE included their FOIA and TVA’s response in their letter to the OIG.
SACE is asking for an expanded audit and investigation because where misconduct is found, appropriate action must be taken, and getting all of the facts is the first step. Currently, TVA functions as a largely self-regulating body, meaning that board members may be responsible for determining their own consequences, if any. This is a clear conflict of interest and, as such, a congressional oversight hearing should be convened to review this material and assure the proper protocols are in place.
“The regulatory scheme that allows TVA to be a self-regulated, federal monopoly is broken and leads to bad behavior and abuse. We are seeing these patterns in a lack of transparency, excessive executive pay, and now misuse of federally-owned aircraft,” said Dr. Stephen A. Smith, Executive Director of SACE, “Our congressional delegation is missing in action when it comes to oversight of TVA and this exacerbates these problems.”
“It is clear that the original audit has only just scratched the surface of what appears to be an ongoing pattern of CEO Bill Johnson’s abuse of power, lack of transparency, and complete disregard for the customers that he is supposed to be serving,” said Debbie Dooley, President of Conservatives for Energy Freedom and co-founder of the National Tea Party. “Along with the request for continued investigation, I am repeating my call for Johnson’s resignation, as he is clearly not deserving of our trust.”
An excerpt from the letter to TVA’s OIG:
As a federal agency, TVA’s refusal to release information to the public, its ratepayers, for the purchase and use of multi-million dollar aircraft is frustrating at best and disturbing at worst. TVA should be required to make flight logs and passenger lists transparent and available for review to the public. Given TVA’s refusal to make such information transparent up to this point, it is all the more imperative for OIG to expand its initial audit and open further investigations. In its investigative function, the OIG is tasked with “conducting investigations designed to promote economy, efficiency, and effectiveness, and to prevent and detect fraud, waste, and abuse” therefore it is OIG’s duty to do a full and thorough review of TVA’s actions in purchasing and using all of its aircraft beginning in 2013 to the present day.
The letter, along with SACE’s FOIA requests and TVA’s response, can be found here.
About Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
Founded in 1985, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy is a nonprofit organization that promotes responsible energy choices that work to address the impacts of global climate change and ensure clean, safe, and healthy communities throughout the Southeast. Learn more at www.cleanenergy.org.