President Trump pushed to oust TVA CEO: If you outsource jobs, ‘you’re fired’

Correction: The original version of this story misstated an Associated Press report. AP has reported President Trump has removed the TVA Board Chairman, not the TVA CEO.

President Donald Trump said Monday he is pushing for the removal of Tennessee Valley Authority’s CEO Jeff Lyash, according to pool reports, calling his salary – the highest of any federal employee – a disgrace.

“But he gets $8 million a year, and I can think of about almost 100% of the people I know would take that job,” he said. “He gets $8 million a year so that was just a succession of deep swamp things happening and it’s a disgrace.

“So, let this serve as a warning to any federally appointed board. If you betray American workers, then you will hear two simple words ‘you’re fired. You’re fired.’”

In addition to his comments about Lyash, the Associated Press first reported Trump also said he had removed the TVA board chairman and another board member. The White House has since confirmed.

Chairman James “Skip” Thompson and and board members Richard Howorth have been fired, Trump said.

The president’s comments came as he signed an executive order forbidding federal agencies from outsourcing jobs overseas. Trump was joined by a host of TVA employees and U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett, R-TN, in the White House’s Cabinet Room.

“If the TVA does not move swiftly to reverse their decision to rehire their workers then more board members will be removed we have the absolute right to remove board members, and the board makes that decision,” he said. “I don’t make the decision.”

The order came as a direct result from TVA’s decision to outsource jobs though it was not immediately clear what the impact will be on TVA.

TVA gave formal notice to 62 IT workers in Chattanooga and Knoxville that their jobs are ending in 90 days in June as the nation’s largest public utility continues its move of outsourcing more data and programming work, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Since TVA announced last year it would outsource some of the computer programming work being done at its Chattanooga computer center and its headquarters in Knoxville, nearly half of the 120 jobs being cut have already been phased out as workers found other jobs at TVA or left the agency, the newspaper reported.

The parent company of each of the three software development contractors being hired by TVA are headquartered outside of the United States, the Times Free Press reports.

About the executive order

The president’s order will require all federal agencies to complete an internal audit and assess whether they are in compliance with the requirement that only U.S. citizens and nationals are appointed to the competitive service.

The order, simply put, will prevent federal agencies from replacing U.S. labor with cheaper, foreign labor.

The order explicitly lists TVA’s decision to outsource IT jobs as the reason for the action. TVA’s decision could cause more than 200 highly-skilled American tech workers in Tennessee to lose their jobs to low-wage, foreign workers hired on temporary work visas, according to a release from the White House. TVA’s decision is also expected to cost the local economy tens of millions of dollars over the next 5 years, the release said.

A TVA spokesperson could not immediately comment on the order.

Trump continues to knock TVA CEO pay

Trump’s comments about Lyash follow similar barbs he made in an April media briefing where he was discussing a possible infrastructure bill (that has yet to pass Congress). Lyash’s predecessor, Bill Johnson, made $8.1 million in total compensation and was the highest paid federal employee before he left.

Lyash’s compensation won’t reach that high – he began with a base pay of $920,000 – but his contract comes with millions of additional incentives baked in.

More: President Trump lashes out about TVA CEO’s salary: ‘It’s ridiculous’

“It is ridiculous, I agree. It’s ridiculous … You said Tennessee Valley Authority, right? Has to be the highest-paid man in any government (position). Makes approximately $8 million or $9 million. I don’t know the gentleman, but he’s got a heck of a job. He gets paid a lot of money.”

When asked about adjusting the TVA leader’s pay in the pending infrastructure bill, the president said he’d want to reduce it “by a lot.”

“It has to be the greatest job in the history of government, almost – certainly if you’re into money,” said Trump. 

TVA pushed back hard after Trump’s comments, telling Knox News Lyash’s pay is low compared to many of his industry peers and that the utility pays its leader from electricity sales revenue, not tax dollars.

“TVA’s mission of service requires that we attract and retain highly skilled individuals in a specialized industry,” the statement says. “Although a federal corporation, TVA receives no federal funding for its operations.”

“All funds are generated through wholesale sale of electricity,” the statement continued. “TVA employees do not receive federal health or retirement benefits. Benchmarking other utility peers who are competing for the same talent is the only method available to create a competitive compensation system.”

All of this comes as TVA continues to be embroiled in a climate disaster.

Hundreds of disaster relief workers who cleaned up the spill at Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant in Roane County in December 2008 allege they were poisoned by exposure to coal ash dust without adequate protection. A Knox News ongoing tally from public records shows 50 cleanup workers have died from ailments they claim are linked to their exposure.

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