Famed author Michael Lewis’ latest article for Vanity Fair arguing that the Trump administration’s ignorance of the Department of Energy (DOE) is the “scariest nuclear threat” is riddled with errors.
“Moneyball” author Lewis’ article also paints a misleading picture of how the presidential transition process is supposed to work. Lewis’ article portrays the Trump administration as ignorant and uninterested in listening to the sage advice of the Obama administration, but that’s not how the transition process works.
“So many inaccuracies,” Tom Pyle, the former DOE transition head and president of the free market Institute for Energy Research, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
Lewis panned Pyle as being aloof and unwilling to meet with Obama administration political appointees. One political appointee told Lewis that Pyle “didn’t bring a pencil or a piece of paper” for his short meeting with Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. Pyle then had the audacity to largely ignore top Obama political appointees, according to Lewis.
“He didn’t ask questions. He spent an hour. That was it. He never asked to meet with us again.” Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, DOE deputy secretary, told Lewis.
Former DOE chief of staff Kevin Knobloch, the former president of the left-wing environmental group the Union of Concerned Scientists, was miffed that Pyle didn’t hold weekly meetings with him and instead had “half-dozen meetings or so with others.”
“It’s a head-scratcher,” Knobloch told Lewis. “It’s a $30-billion-a-year organization with about 110,000 employees. Industrial sites across the country. Very serious stuff. If you’re going to run it, why wouldn’t you want to know something about it?”
Lewis omits the fact that Pyle and his transition team held dozens of meetings with senior career staff at DOE, which is exactly what the DOE’s personnel office advised him to do.
The transition process from one administration to the next is designed to be run by career officials, and not political appointees. Logically, it makes sense. Political appointees are leaving, and the new administration will have to work with career employees, who are often more knowledgeable than political staffers.
Why would Pyle meet with partisan political appointees who spent years implementing an agenda President Donald Trump was hell-bent on repealing?
“Those guys are leaving,” Pyle said. “The goal is to meet with the career people.”
“We met with everyone over there,” Pyle said, adding he and his team held as many as 50 meetings during the few weeks he had to prepare the agency for the Trump administration’s taking control. “I probably went out of my way, to a fault, to meet with political appointees.”
Now those political appointees — who were put in place to promote a partisan agenda — are airing their grievances to Lewis.
Then, Lewis claims that Pyle “vanished from the scene,” only to be replaced by “a handful of young ideologues who called themselves ‘the Beachhead Team.’”
“They mainly ran around the building insulting people,” a former Obama official told Lewis, with another adding, “There was a mentality that everything that government does is stupid and bad and the people are stupid and bad.”
Sounds terrifying, except that’s not what happened. Pyle didn’t just vanish, rather, the transition period ended at the inauguration, at which time they were replaced by a “beachhead team” that actually worked at the agency.
Lewis doesn’t distinguish between the two teams — possibly because he has no idea what he’s talking about.
Interestingly enough, the “beachhead team” was made up of six of the nine members of the transition team. So, it’s unclear of where this “handful of young ideologues” came from. But based on who Lewis talked to at DOE, it’s clear that Obama appointees were unhappy with having to hand over the reigns of power.
“It was disgruntled Obama political appointees who still have not come to terms with the outcome of the election,” Pyle said.
“A completely inaccurate picture of what the transition did,” he added.
Now, let’s address the factual inaccuracies.
Lewis inaccurately claims the “Trump White House asked the D.O.E.’s inspector general to resign … out of the mistaken belief that he was an Obama appointee,” but reversed course once they learned that Acting Inspector General April Stephenson was a career position.
That’s not true, according to the DOE inspector general’s office, which in a rare move issued a statement Thursday rebutting Lewis’s claim. Stephenson “was not contacted by the White House and asked to resign,” reads the statement.
Lewis also inaccurately claimed the Trump administration fired General Frank Klotz in the run-up to the transition, only to be reversed after former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz “called a few senators” who “phoned Trump Tower sounding alarmed.”
“[T]he Trump people called General Klotz, on the day before Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States, and asked him to bring back the stuff he had taken home and move back into his office,” he said.
Lewis’s claim is, once again, totally inaccurate. Energy Secretary-Designee Rick Perry met with Klotz before the inauguration and recommended that he stay in charge of the National Nuclear Security Administration, department officials told TheDCNF.
There was a transition team member dedicated to DOE nuclear issue, which puts a damper on Lewis’ overarching narrative that the Trump team was wholly ignorant of the department’s nuclear weapons programs.
A third factual inaccuracy, though seemingly small, perpetuates the false narrative that the DOE’s green energy loan program had turned a profit for taxpayers
Lewis wrote the “loan program became infamous when one of its borrowers, the solar-energy company Solyndra, was unable to repay its loan, but, as a whole .. the program has turned a profit.”
In reality, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) audited the loan program in 2015 and found it was on track to lose taxpayers about $2.2 billion.
The GAO found the “credit subsidy cost of the loans and loan guarantees in its portfolio” is expected “to be $2.21 billion, including $807 million for loans that have defaulted.”
“The fees DOE has collected have not been sufficient to cover all of its administrative expenses for the program” because the “fees on the current loan guarantees were too low to cover ongoing monitoring costs,” the GAO found.
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