President Donald Trump said today that he had fired the chair of the Tennessee Valley Authority, who is Skip Thompson of Decatur, claiming the federal agency has betrayed American workers.
"It does appear from information that we've received that Skip Thompson, who is the chair, and Richard Howorth (of Mississippi), who is the former chair, both have been dismissed from the TVA board of directors," said Jim Hopson, manager of public relations for TVA.
Trump told reporters at the White House that he was formally removing the authority's chair of the board and another member of the board and threatened to remove other board members if they keep hiring foreign labor.
He said the TVA board must immediately hire a new chief executive officer who "puts the interests of Americans first." According to Trump, the CEO earns $8 million a year. According to Trump, the CEO, Jeff Lyash, earns $8 million a year.
"The new CEO must be paid no more than $500,000 a year," Trump said. "We want the TVA to take action on this immediately. ... Let this serve as a warning to any federally appointed board: If you betray American workers, you will hear two words: 'You're fired.'"
As a federal corporation, TVA receives no taxpayer money to compensate its employees. As amended in 2004, the TVA Act directs the board to pay TVA employees, including its CEO, wages that are competitive with private industry in comparable jobs.
The CEO of Alabama Power received executive compensation totaling $8.2 million in 2019, according to a report the company filed this year. According to Energy and Policy Institute, two dozen U.S. utility CEOs received annual compensation packages in 2019 worth over $8 million, with the highest being the Southern Company at $27.9 million.
U.S. Tech Workers, a nonprofit that wants to limit visas given to foreign technology workers, took out an ad to persuade Trump to stop the TVA from outsourcing much of its information technology division. The group, led by Kevin Lynn, criticized the TVA for furloughing its own workers and replacing them with contractors using foreign workers with H-1B visas.
"We understand and support today’s Executive Order," TVA's Hopson said in an email. "We want to ensure that U.S. employees have good opportunities through our employment and supply chain practices. We look forward to working with the White House, continuing a dialogue and supporting future policies in this direction.
"All TVA employees are U.S. based citizens. All jobs related to TVA’s Information Technology department must be performed by in the U.S. by individuals who may legally work in this country."
Trump made the announcement as he signed an executive order to require all federal agencies to complete an internal audit to prove they are not replacing qualified American workers with people from other countries. The White House said the order will help prevent federal agencies from unfairly replacing American workers with lower cost foreign labor.
The order followed the TVA's announcement that it would outsource 20% of its technology jobs to companies based in foreign countries. TVA's action could cause more than 200 highly skilled American tech workers in Tennessee to lose their jobs to foreign workers hired on temporary work visas, according to the White House.
But Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said the TVA doesn't get any taxpayer money. Commenting on the issue in April, Alexander said the White House was spreading misinformation. He said that TVA chief executive officers' pay is lower than other large utilities and that TVA energy rates are among the lowest in the nation.
In a memo to TVA employees in April, after Trump initially challenged Lyash's pay, Thompson wrote, "Our CEO compensation is based on comparisons with the utility industry and is evaluated by independent auditors. That total compensation (for Lyash) ranks in the lower 25 percent of utility peers."
"... We are fully supportive of (Lyash) and of the entire TVA team," Thompson said in the April memo. "It's unfortunate that ill-informed opinions are now distracting us from our focus on providing reliable power and other vital services during this challenging time."
As a federal corporation, TVA’s Board members serve at the pleasure of the president, according to Hopson. The board’s by-laws allow it to continue its oversight function with the loss of one or more of its members.
Thompson was elected TVA chair in February 2019 and took over May 19 that year. His term was to run until May 18, 2021.
Thompson was sworn in as a board member in January 2018 after being nominated by Trump on Sept. 21, 2017.
Thompson is president and CEO of Corporate Billing LLC in Decatur. He previously served as president and CEO of First American Bank in Decatur and president and CEO of First Commerce Bank of Huntsville. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Alabama in Huntsville and is a graduate of Decatur High.
The TVA is a federally owned corporation created in 1933 to provide flood control, electricity generation, fertilizer manufacturing and economic development to the Tennessee Valley, a region that was hard hit by the Great Depression. The region covers most of Tennessee and parts of Alabama, Mississippi and Kentucky as well as small sections of Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.