The GAO said the Trump administration had violated the Impoundment Control Act by not spending $91 million that was intended for the Energy Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). Administration officials planned to cancel half of the unspent $91 million and use the other half to shut down the program.
“When Congress provides money for the executive branch, the President must spend that money,” Emmanuelli Perez, the GAO’s deputy general counsel, said in a statement. “An agency violates the law if it intentionally slows down or halts spending in response to legislative proposals to reduce or eliminate a program. Agencies generally cannot halt a program because an administration doesn’t support the program.”
Although the administration has since released the funds, which were part of the fiscal 2017 budget, the report stokes fears that the administration could use the tactic again to target important energy and environmental programs.
The Trump administration’s opposition to a federal loan guarantee program could damage efforts to commercialize cutting edge energy technologies. The loan guarantee program, originally part of the 2005 Energy Policy Act, received increased funding as part of President Obama’s economic stimulus plan.
In the past, loan programs have aided the development of Tesla‘s electric vehicles, Ford’s push for engine efficiency and renewable energy storage. It also supported five initial utility-scale solar projects, allowing them to gain investor confidence and go on to fund 43 similar-size solar projects independent of federal loan support. There are dozens of other projects awaiting approval.