By Tori Richards | Watchdog.org
GOLDEN, Colo. — A Watchdog.org report that top executives at a secret government lab earned salaries of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year set off angry debate among employees, internal documents show.
Lab analyst Jason Coughlin summed up the thoughts of fellow employees — who have wrestled with frozen salaries for years — at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory by emailing, “Holy Shmoley! Do you have the article with the salaries?”
The revelations came in more than 2,000 pages of emails Watchdog.org received from the U.S. Department of Energy in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. The DOE funds the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, whose president raked in about a million dollars per year. Three other top execs earned approximately $500,000 each, Watchdog.org revealed in the November 2012 article.
As a result of the article, NREL clerical staffer Kerrilee Crosby took to Twitter and threatened a “murderous rampage” against Watchdog.org reporters. Crosby in turn received a similar threat via email from a disgruntled reader. NREL subsequently shut down employee computer access to Watchdog.org.
While employees stewed over the huge pay discrepancies between upper management and the working class, the man at the center of the controversy apparently lied. Lab President Dan Arvizu, who made $928,069 in salary and benefits in 2010 — a $236,499 raise from the year before — emailed senior administrator Edwin Tracy to defend his pay by trying to argue that his lab salary came from two sources: the government and a nonprofit.
But that nonprofit, MRIGlobal, received a federal Department of Energy grant of $1.1 billion over a five-year period.
“The Gov’t limits how much the Gov’t contributes to top executives’ compensation and the limit is tied to Gov’t pay scales,” Arvizu wrote to Tracy in a Nov. 28, 2012, email. “MRI pays me beyond the govt contribution from their fee (but not that much!) I took a pay cut to come here and don’t regret that. These groups (Watchdog) have an agenda to incite public opinion against govt investments in causes with which they disagree. Responding to these folks’ false claims breaks (assistant) Bill Glover’s rule #1, when you wrestle with pigs…
“I chalk this up to the price of being in the public eye.”
Arvizu didn’t respond to a Watchdog.org request to clarify his position.
Other employees had their own take.
“Interesting. I thought our salaries were FROZEN,” wrote subcontract administrator Angelica Huffman.
“What??? Are those salaries for real? If so, this is only going to fuel my horrible transformation to Republicanism,” wrote Molly Riddell, a project manager.
Rebecca McEwen Webber, who works in corporate communications, responded with: “OK the scariness is that the salaries probably ARE for real…no one seems to be disputing that particular section. And we aren’t becoming Republicans, we’re becoming anarchists. It’s much more vogue and honorable in this class war we’re engaged in.”
Another employee, safety specialist Bev Hiller, wrote: “WOW!!! And we got no raises!”
Senior safety engineer Doug Manno responded: “Those salaries come from bonuses. Bonuses come from award fee paid to the Alliance. They are paid by the Alliance not NREL. If you want a bonus, you have to be a manager above the senior management level.”
Hiller responded, “It still seems like a lot of money.”
Other employees who posted comments on the job site GlassDoor.com gave further insight into the haves versus have-nots at NREL:
“Stop thinking about yourselves and your bonuses while the rest of your employees have frozen salaries!” wrote a current employee in 2013 who has a job title of “group leader.”
Numerous other employees complained of nepotism for jobs at the top and an organization riddled with bureaucrats at the expense of the working force.
Another wrote that NREL should “definitely cut management salaries” because research scientists, the “lifeblood of the organization” are really underpaid.
Contact Tori Richards at email@example.com and on twitter @newswriter2.