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Michael Bastasch

GOP Texas Rep. Lamar Smith is demanding the Energy Department (DOE) turn over documents related to the agency paying for a government engineer’s law degree that was completely unrelated to his job.

Smith wants to make sure more DOE employees aren’t having taxpayers foot the bill for college degrees completely unrelated to their jobs. Funding one engineer’s law degree cost taxpayers $138,000, agency auditors found in July.

“The Committee is concerned this could be an indication of a more widespread occurrence of inappropriate training authorizations and expenditures within DOE,” wrote Smith, chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

“To better understand this case, and learn what steps DOE has taken to prevent a similar occurrence in the future, we request that DOE provide certain documents and information to the Committee,” Smith wrote in a letter sent to Secretary of Energy Rick Perry on Tuesday.

“The Committee has questions about why Darian Ghorbi received preferential treatment during his tenure at DOE under the prior administration,” Smith further wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation.

DOE auditors reported in July that senior officials had allowed agency engineer Darian Ghorbi to take law classes at American University in Washington, D.C. at taxpayer expense.

However, Ghorbi left DOE shortly after earning his law degree in May 2013 “for work in the private sector,” investigators found. DOE officials “had not considered the use of a continued service agreement for this employee despite the fact that he had taken extensive training at considerable cost.”

What auditors found most unusual was that DOE already has policies in place to prevent this issue, but “these controls were overridden by senior management officials in the approval chain at the time.”

Those senior management left no documentation of why they made their decision, and they couldn’t be interviewed by auditors “because they had left the agency,” auditors found.

Ghorbi and his managers worked in DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy. President Donald Trump’s budget proposed shrinking the office 54 percent, from $618 million in 2017 to $280 million in 2018.

Congress has already proposed legislation that reverses the cuts proposed by the White House. A House bill released in July only cuts the DOE’s fossil office $33 million.

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