The Energy Department’s Office of Inspector General would not confirm or deny this week whether it is investigating a regional organization in New Mexico that advocates for local governments around the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
The office does not comment on the existence of any “investigative matters,” the DOE IG’s Felicia Jones said by telephone after the Albuquerque Journal reported Sunday the department was probing grant funding for the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities (RCLC).
“We have received no formal communication at all” from the Energy Department, RCLC Executive Director Eric Vasquez said by telephone Tuesday. “I have heard through the grapevine that an investigation is underway” regarding DOE’s grant funding to the organization.
The Albuquerque newspaper story said Vasquez told his board about the federal probe in February, saying while he has few details, the review could touch upon DOE handling of grants to community groups.
In an August 2018 report, the New Mexico State Auditor’s Office criticized both the RCLC board and former executive director Andrea Romero, now a state delegate, over expense reimbursement irregularities. The state auditor launched its review after receiving a citizen complaint regarding potential misuse of public funds at the coalition. The New Mexico attorney general’s office is also reviewing the group’s bookkeeping.
The regional coalition has been funded in part by a five-year grant from DOE, totaling $500,000, which stretches into June 2020. The grant’s rules prohibit lobbying, but the RCLC “appears to be engaged in prohibited lobbying activities,” according to the auditor’s report, which cited letters regarding state and federal legislation. The coalition has said only a small part of its work is devoted to advocacy, and it is funded by non-DOE sources.
“We believe we are now in full compliance with all state and federal regulations,” Vasquez said in an email.