NASHVILLE — U.S. Sen. Bob Corker says that because the Tennessee Valley Authority is a "blip on the radar screen" for President Barack Obama or any president, he fears most days in Washington that "the federal government is going to destroy TVA" through benign neglect.
"Just because, again, it not being important," the Tennessee Republican told reporters Wednesday following a speech to Nashville's Chamber of Commerce.
Corker also said he is looking at alternative governance structures for the federal utility, which was created in 1933 to serve parts of seven states, including Tennessee.
The senator has recently complained about the corporate acumen of presidentially appointed members serving on TVA's governing board. TVA has major challenges that need someone with high-level corporate board experience, Corker said.
The agency was transformed in the mid-2000s by legislation pushed by then-U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn. It went from a three-member full-time board to a part-time nine-member board which then selects a CEO to run the $11 billion-a-year business.
"I don't know what the best model" would be, Corker said. "I've had some conversations. I've wondered whether governors wouldn't care more about them. At the end of the day governors, let's say the governor of Tennessee, sure cares a lot more about the economic growth of Tennessee than anyone in the White House does.
"I wonder if there are different models like that," Corker said, then hastily added, "I'm not suggesting that's the answer."
Asked whether he would consider privatizing TVA, a move that critics outside the Tennessee Valley have called on for decades, Corker said such a change "is a step too far, at present anyway.
"And," he added, "I don't think that's even a realistic thing to talk about in October 2012."
But Corker said "there are ways that TVA could use some private sector entities to help it become more proficient and that might be a perfectly good way of doing it. My thrust is not some backdoor of trying to create [privatization]."
He asked "are there ways they could probably use some private sector expertise that they're not using today but still be a public entity like they are today? There are, and I think that might be a way to be better at handling nuclear plant construction or dealing with some of these other" issues.
The agency has more than $25 billion of debt, much of its from nuclear plant construction costs and overruns.
"What I've talked about mostly, I think is just having a board that has the ability to run an $11 billion operation," he said.
Energy costs are a "huge part of any kind of manufacturing entity, especially manufacturing," Corker said.
Corker offered as evidence of Democrat Obama's neglect that the president only this month offered up four nominations to replace vacancies. Earlier this year, Obama sent another nomination that has yet to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
Whether any of them go through will depend in large part on who wins the presidential election, he said.
Corker said he and U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., "are going to sit down with them [nominees] after the election because obviously elections will actually determine whether they're nominated or not," he said.
The senator said he has made no judgments on the qualifications of Obama's nominees, which include 2010 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike McWherter of Tennessee.
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...