Editorial: BPA gives ethics another jolt

We don’t know about you, but it’s sad that we’re not surprised when we hear government employees find ways to hide what they are doing from the public.

The latest example comes from three administrators of the Bonneville Power Administration. They used private email accounts to do agency business with a political consultant. The consultant was paid about $1 million by the agency since 2001, according to The Oregonian.

BPA is about as big as it gets when it comes to electrical power in the Northwest. It’s a federal agency that generates about one-third of the electric power used. It also operates and maintains about 75 percent of the high-voltage transmission lines in the region.

The power has kept flowing, but so have violations in hiring of veterans and improper handling of whistleblowers. The BPA suspended two top executives. They both later resigned. And because of those inquiries, investigators found the improper use of email.

The contract with consulting firm Washington 2 Advocates and its founder Tony Williams was questionable. Williams was paid under a no-bid contract to gather political intelligence for the agency and help executives with their “messaging” to federal decision makers. Federal law prohibits agencies from using public funds to lobby federal officials or influence policy. Somehow the BPA asserted what Williams was doing did not violate that law. The contract was not renewed last year.

The other issue is why administrators would use private accounts for their communications with Williams. Did they have something to hide? Did they not know they weren’t supposed to do that? Do other BPA employees try to hide what they are doing?

Incident after incident like this unravels trust in government and the good things that so many government employees do.