Solyndra investigation led to new search tool at Energy

The congressional investigation into alleged mishandling of a $528 million Energy Department loan guarantee to the now-bankrupt solar energy company Solyndra was bad news overall for the department.

One silver lining, though, came from Energy Chief Technology Officer Peter Tseronis' office.

When the probe began, the department's Loan Programs Office was using a collection of clunky search tools to find documents for congressional investigators, Tseronis said. That resulted in "GS-15s standing at printers hitting print, print, print, copy, copy, copy for emails, attachments, PDFs -- information that was just voluminous," he said.

Acting Chief Financial Officer Owen Barwell came to Tseronis with the problem and within a few weeks, the CTO's office had worked with a vendor to retrofit an enterprise Google search tool the department already was using to index and sort through emails, attachments, Word documents and PDFs. That drastically cut down the agency's workload, Tseronis said.

Now that the enterprise search tool is built, he said, officials can use it elsewhere in the department, either for legal discovery or records management, and the process will be useful background knowledge if Energy builds or buys a new departmentwide e-discovery or records management system.

Tseronis was speaking on the sidelines of an Emerging Technologies Symposium sponsored by the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association, a government and industry group.

When it comes to buying information technology systems or wringing new capabilities from existing systems, Tseronis and other panelists at the conference said crisis is often the mother of invention -- especially when there's not much budget flexibility.

"The neat thing behind the scenes is it caused us to take a look at a process and say that needs to be improved because now we're a bit under the gun and we have to make this more efficient," he said. "The tools we're buying, the products, the switches, the routers the search appliances, they're extremely powerful tools and we rarely tap into the full potential of those."