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BPA Regains Key Personnel Authority

by Steven Johnson
Electric Co-op Today, October 6, 2014

Managers look to bring "very difficult chapter" to a close

Steve Wright is chief executive officer and administrator of the Bonneville Power Administration.  BPA is a federal agency that markets wholesale electric power from 31 federal hydro projects, one nuclear plant and several other small, nonfederal power plants.  Wright is retiring in January. Customers of Bonneville Power Administration, including electric cooperatives, are encouraged by a Department of Energy decision that returns key human resources decisions to the power marketer.

The action, announced Sept. 30, reinstates BPA's staffing powers. DOE suspended them in 2013 in the wake of a hiring scandal that included reports of discrimination against veterans and retaliation against whistleblowers.

"This is a critical step," said Scott Corwin, executive director of the Portland, Ore.-based Public Power Council, which represents co-ops and other consumer-owned utilities. "With the problems fixed, authority is rightly returned to the regional administrator so that BPA can take much-needed personnel actions."

Members of the Northwest congressional delegation, as well as BPA customers, had expressed concern that DOE could use the scandal as a pretext to micromanage the agency from Washington.

DOE stripped Bonneville of its ability to take almost any personnel action, and the controversy cost two top BPA officials their jobs.

In a statement, Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman said the department "will honor BPA's unique status as a separate and distinct organizational entity." He did not address whether the department will again allow the BPA general counsel to report to the BPA administrator, instead of DOE headquarters, another outgrowth of the scandal.

Under new Administrator Elliott Mainzer, BPA completed a "get well" program, reconstructing 1,259 hiring cases involving more than 22,000 job applications, to ensure all candidates are treated fairly, Poneman said.

"This affirms that Elliot Mainzer and the leadership team at BPA have done an impressive job with an enormous challenge over the past year," said John Prescott, president and CEO of PNGC Power in Portland.

John Saven, CEO of Northwest Requirements Utilities, which also includes many co-ops, also praised the way Mainzer, the managers and employees at BPA have addressed human resources issues.

"Now, we will work together to ensure they are in the best position possible to meet the mission of providing safe and reliable wholesale power and transmission for Northwest consumers," he said.

Steven Johnson
BPA Regains Key Personnel Authority
Electric Co-op Today, October 6, 2014

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