Tuesday, September 6

The guy who signed off on a half-Billion loan to bankrupt company

In researching how a startup company with a lousy business plan managed to tap taxpayers for $535 million and then go bankrupt just 8 months later, I ran across this piece on a techie website. It's an interview with the guy who runs the DOE's loan program.

The guy--Jonathan Silver--had been a venture capitalist, so you'd think he'd be very savvy when it comes to reading balance sheets and evaluating business plans. The author says Silver described his job as overseeing the application process, the analysis and the negotiations for loans and loan guarantees.

Sounds like the exact guy who would have had to approve the Solyndra loan guarantees.

Oh, Silver also had one other responsibility: he said he was also responsible for staffing. Meaning--obviously--that he selected the folks on his staff.

That means they owe their jobs to him.

As he said in another interview (video about halfway down the page), in Jan 2009 there were nine people on the staff, and 18 months later there were 175 or so.

Starting to see the problem yet?

In reading paragraph after paragraph of the guy's comments, it's clear that he loves "investing" in companies. It's exciting, there's a chance for a big breakthrough, yada yada. But unfortunately, he's not putting his own money at risk in these ventures, but yours.

And lots of it: Between the so-called "stimulus" bill and the Obama administration's love of so-called "green jobs" (anyone remember Van Jones?), Silver had found a virtually unlimited source of funds. Seventy Billion bucks. And wanted more.

What happens when you give a venture capitalist comparatively unlimited funding and give him the task of investing in risky, cutting-edge ventures? You get a slew of risky loans.

That's fine for people investing their own hard-earned dollars. But when the guy is "investing" your money, most of us would expect less cheerleading and a helluva lot more critical analysis.

Read the interview at the link. The guy sounds really sharp, but because he's been untethered from the constraints of sound investing, the results you get are...political.

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