Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam cites
Jul 24, 2012
The following article was published in The Florida Current on July 24, 2012:
By Bruce Ritchie
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam on Tuesday blamed mismanagement at a “rudderless” state energy office for allowing fraud to occur prior to the Legislature moving the office to his department in 2011.
An audit report released by the Office of Inspector General at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said it identified possible fraud among energy grant program recipients and halted $2.5 million in payments to two companies. The money, Putnam told reporters, involved state and federal grant programs.
Putnam also told reporters that the two Florida-based companies, which he did not identify, engaged in a “complicated scheme to defraud the taxpayer.” He said the cases, one of them involving a multistate scheme involving fake holding companies, had been turned over to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the FBI.
“Thats the worst-case scenario in terms of people who lied, cheated, steal — defrauded the government through these programs,” Putnam said.
He also said the audit revealed the consequences of an office getting bounced around among five different places in state government. The state energy office since 1975 has been housed at the Department of Management Services, the Department of Community Affairs, the Department of Environmental Protection and the governor’s office. Putnam said that the movement was part of the problem.
“They were awarding $200 million-plus (in grants),” Putnam said. “And yet the previous administration had a travel ban on visiting the sites that were getting $200 million. So they were never physically inspecting any of these sites.”
Conservative critics of the HB 7117 energy bill this year brought up the Solyndra bankruptcy scandal in asking Gov. Rick Scott to veto the bill that provides up to $100 million in tax credits over five years for renewable energy projects. Scott allowed the bill to become law without his signature.
On Tuesday Putnam again rejected the idea that the audit could confirm criticism of the bill. He said the tax credits only would go toward completed projects.
He said fraud was not pervasive in the grant programs but added, “It’s unacceptable anywhere that it occurs. And I’m proud of our inspector general finding it to the tune of $2.5 million.”
He said grants were awarded for 20 projects to establish E-85 ethanol gasoline stations, but 12 of those project recipients have terminated grants without receiving payments. The department will have a better idea by the end of the year how many grants haven’t been paid because recipients haven’t done the work.
Putnam also faulted administration of the popular solar rebate program, saying “somebody in Tallahassee-land” hadn’t processed 12,000 eligible rebate invoices in 2011. He said within 100 days of taking over the energy office on July 1, 2011, his department had sorted the invoices and paid the $25 million that had been budgeted for the program.
He said the energy office lacked staff and lacked training for the staff that was there. He deflected questions about whether blame should be placed on the administrations of former Gov. Charlie Crist or Scott, who had the energy office as part of the governor’s office for six months prior to the transfer to DACS.
“It’s pretty clear since 1975, this office that has bounced around five different places has been rudderless,” he said. “And the consequences of that lack of leadership came home to roost with major stresses on the office … in public demand to participate in the programs and an enormous amount of money that needed to be administered effectively.”
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