Sen. Flake calls for new investigation into federal power agency

Sen. Jeff Flake called for the Department of Energy to investigate new claims that a federal power agency has not done enough to curb out-of-control waste, fraud and abuse.

During a hearing last week, Flake made the request to Energy Department Secretary Rick Perry, who agreed to look into concerns with the Western Area Power Administration, or WAPA.

“It is unacceptable that after multiple investigations, hearings, audits and news stories, there could still be waste, fraud and abuse of at WAPA,” said Flake, who chairs a Senate subcommittee that has oversight of WAPA.  

Earlier this year, an ABC15 investigation exposed uncovered out-of-control waste, abuse and fraud inside WAPA, specifically with the use of the agencies credit cards.

Whistleblowers told reporters that top officials were indifferent to improper financial practices and slow or unwilling to fix them.

Flake’s renewed concern comes after a top WAPA official said under oath that he doesn’t believe anything has changed. The sworn testimony obtained by ABC15 was given by WAPA Senior Vice President Michael McElhany in March in a deposition for a whistleblower case.

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When questioned if another top WAPA official had “fixed” problems with the credit card program, McElhany said, “no.” When asked again, he responded, “No, they have not been, to my knowledge, fixed.”

Flake referenced the comments during the hearing.

“It’s troubling to see there is disagreement at the highest level of WAPA,” he said.

Perry agreed and said if the government waste had not been corrected, he would look into it.

“It’s unacceptable,” Perry said. “Anytime those activities occur people lose faith in government.”

WAPA officials have declined ABC15’s requests for an interview.

But a spokesperson for the agency sent a written statement from WAPA’s CEO Mark Gabriel and directed ABC15 to a recent press release highlighting the agency’s actions to stop the waste, fraud and abuse.

“I appreciate the partnership with Senator Flake and look forward to continuing to work with him on any further information requests. We are committed to being good stewards of our customers’ and the nation’s resources as we continue to provide the lowest-cost power in the state of Arizona,” Gabriel said.

Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at dbiscobing@abc15.com.

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