Links to other articles in this series are included below. — Editors
By Tori Richards | Watchdog.org
GOLDEN, Colo. – Hidden in the mountains outside Denver, the secret National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is already hard to find. Now officials at the federal green-energy lab say they’ve got another layer of protection: they’re not subject to public oversight because they’re not — technically — federal.
“NREL staff are not federal employees,” NREL’s spokesman George Douglas told Watchdog.org. “We work for the Alliance for Sustainable Energy, and do not share the personnel information such as you have requested.”
Alliance and its parent company MRIGlobal are non-profit management groups that oversee NREL, a Jimmy Carter-era federal lab that studies energy alternatives. Together, the three organizations have received more than $1 billion tax dollars since 2010. Key NREL management earn in the mid six figures; the top official clocks in at just under $1 million per year.
When Watchdog.org published those numbers, lab worker Kerri Ann Crosby responded via Twitter that she wanted to go on a “murderous rampage” at Watchdog offices.
“Have you ever felt like going on a murderous rampage? Start at @WatchdogCO ‘s offices. They perpetuate lies like this,” Crosby tweeted.
Asked why she advocated mass murder given Colorado’s recent history of violence in such places as Columbine High School and Aurora, she responded: “Because you deserve to die.”
When we asked the lab for information about Crosby and the lab’s employment policies, we were told it was none of our business — that NREL is really a non-profit organization and therefore not covered by the federal Freedom of Information Act.
That’s hard to square with several facts. NREL staff emails end with the federal suffix, “.gov.” And the Department of Energy (DOE) maintains a satellite office in Golden that is supposed to provide the public with documents related “to the operation of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory,” according to the DOE website.
“The lab is subject to the federal open records law,” said Chris Farrell, director of investigations for the transparency advocacy group Judicial Watch. “They can’t have secret policies. Their activities and operations are subject to public scrutiny. If they have used a non-profit management corporations as a means to try and thwart the open records law, that is inappropriate and perhaps unlawful.”
In its crusade to open government records, Judicial Watch has taken fights all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The organization is currently fighting to open records on Osama bin Laden.“Other government laboratories have relationships with universities,” Farrell said. “I am not aware of any of these organizations trying to avoid obeying the federal open records law.”
Tori Richards can be reached at @newswriter2 and firstname.lastname@example.org
Other articles in this series:
Secret energy lab spawns million-dollar government employee (Nov. 24, 2012)
‘Murderous rampage’: Gov’t lab worker threatens reporters (Dec. 12, 2012)
SPECIAL: Watchdog’s 25 scariest people, version 2012 (Dec. 24, 2012)
Murderous rampage worker eyed by cops, off job (Dec. 21, 2012)
Worker exploits lax DOE policy to send threats (Feb. 11, 2013)