PORTLAND, Ore. — The acting chief of the Bonneville Power Administration is pledging to fix problems in the agency's human resources department and says Bonneville will not tolerate retaliation.
Elliot Mainzer said he's trying to turn the corner and focus on the future.
"I want people to know how fundamentally committed I am to providing business continuity while fixing these problems and making sure that nothing like this ever happens again at BPA," Mainzer told the Oregonian. "I'm putting my integrity on the line here. We're going to get this fixed."
The self-financed federal agency sells power from 31 hydroelectric dams and manages the bulk of the Northwest's power grid.
Two independent audits and an investigation by the Department of Energy's Office of Inspector General uncovered massive problems within Bonneville's human resources department. They ranged from a lack of knowledge and training on federal hiring procedures to intentional manipulation of job applicant rankings that discriminated against veterans and other applicants.
The investigation centered on human resources but described BPA as a rogue agency that routinely deflected oversight by the Department of Energy, ignored regular reporting and accountability measures, and tolerated a management culture of mistrust and intimidation.
BPA's administrator, Bill Drummond, and its chief operating officer, Anita Decker, were suspended in July after the inspector general received reports that managers were retaliating against whistle-blowers. Mainzer declined to comment on the status of their jobs.
Mainzer has held a variety of management positions since joining BPA in 2002, prior to which he ran Enron Corp.'s renewable power desk. He has managed a number of important and contentious transmission and renewable energy issues for the agency.
Mainzer dismissed concerns from some employees and customer groups that the Energy Department is trying to rein in BPA's autonomy or that employee pay grades will be lowered.
"The department is not interested in us becoming a field office," Mainzer said, "but they want to make sure our statutory status is clean."
BPA plans to offer jobs to applicants who faced discrimination. The public utilities that buy low-cost hydropower from the agency have expressed deep concern with the cost.
Mainzer said the department was focusing on reconstructing about 600 hiring cases between 2010 and 2013 to determine where there were problems. The agency hopes to complete the investigation and resulting hiring by Sept. 30, 2014, and his best guess was that a "couple hundred" applicants would end up being offered jobs. The agency should be able to accommodate that through normal vacancies and attrition, he said, and the cost of addressing the issues, he said, would be "a handful of millions of dollars."
"We're working very closely with DOE to make sure we conduct this as efficiently as possible," he said. "It's obviously a concern, and I deeply regret that we're having to spend customers' money that way."