Government watchdogs are raising ethics concerns that Dan Poneman, who served for years as a high-ranking Department of Energy official, has just taken a job as president and CEO of a nuclear enrichment company that has long received special treatment from the federal government, including on his watch.
During his tenure as Deputy Secretary of Energy from 2009 to 2014 (including a brief stint as Acting Energy Secretary), Poneman was a strong advocate of nuclear power, touting it as a reliable energy source and a possible solution to the climate crisis.
Also during Poneman's reign, Centrus Energy Corp., known formerly as U.S. Enrichment Corp., was a major beneficiary of federal deals.
In fact, the DOE was accused (pdf) by the Government Accountability Office of breaking laws by conducting four uranium transfers in 2012 and 2013 to favor the company, which enriches uranium for the U.S. military and the nuclear industry.
However, this censure did not stop Washington's revolving doors from spinning.
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Centrus Energy Corp. announced that Poneman "has been selected by its Board of Directors as president and chief executive officer of the Company." The gig pays up to $1.7 million a year, according to Politico reporter Darius Dixon.
But even while ethics rules will prohibit Poneman from contacting the DOE directly for two years, watchdogs say the shuffle still stinks.
Tyson Slocum, director of the energy program for the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, told Environment & Energy Publishing that this is one of the most dramatic examples of Washington's revolving door he's ever seen.
"This doesn't really pass the smell test," he said. "You're putting a top former government official in charge of the company; it's safe to say his appointment as CEO is all about maximizing their influence with key federal officials for all types of federal support."
Ed Lyman, a senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, told Politico he agrees. "The lobbying aside, it’s really just the appearance that this job was some sort of reward for the favorable treatment they were getting from DOE. It’s just that appearance that needs to be respected."