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Trump ousts TVA board members over outsourcing jobs, targets CEO salary

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump said on Monday he was formally removing two members from the board of the Tennessee Valley Authority for seeking to outsource U.S. jobs to foreign workers, and criticized its chief executive as “ridiculously overpaid.”

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during an executive order signing event on "hiring American" in a darkened Cabinet Room of the White House, with curtains drawn and the lights low, in Washington, U.S., August 3, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

In remarks during a White House event, Trump threatened to remove the agency’s chief executive, Jeff Lyash, and called on the board of the nation’s largest public utility to do 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,’” Trump said, before signing an executive order aimed at preventing federal agencies from using foreign workers and offshore labor to displace U.S. workers.

The move comes weeks after Trump sparked criticism from business groups over his decision to suspend the entry of certain foreign workers on H-1B visas, saying the move would help the coronavirus-battered economy.

Trump, who has the authority to appoint the TVA board, said he was removing its chairman James Thompson and Richard Howorth. He later nominated Charles W. Cook, a telecommunications executive, to serve on the board.

U.S. Tech workers, a nonprofit that opposes expansion of H1-B visas to skilled foreign workers, had urged Trump to fire Lyash after the TVA in June laid off 62 IT workers as it moved to outsource more data and programming work.

During the meeting, attended by several TVA workers, Trump said he had been informed that Lyash had contacted the White House and indicated a strong willingness to reverse course.

In a statement, TVA said all its employees were U.S.-based and legally permitted to work in the country, but it would continue working with the White House on the issue.

Trump has also sparred with the TVA over its efforts to close coal-fired power plants and previously proposed selling parts of the government-owned entity to the private sector.

The U.S. Tech workers’ group aired an ad on cable television that said Lyash received an $8.1 million compensation package, making him the “highest-paid federal employee in America.”

Trump said the position was overpaid, and the CEO should not make more than $500,000 annually.

TVA’s latest Securities and Exchange Commission filing showed Lyash received a pro-rated base salary of $445,846 from April, when he was hired, through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, plus a signing bonus of $380,000, and non-equity incentive compensation of over $860,000.

His future pension benefits were calculated at nearly $6 million, bringing his total package to $8.16 million, according to the filings.

Republican Senator Lamar Alexander cited TVA as saying the compensation was in the bottom fourth of what CEOs from other big utilities earned, and was set strictly according to federal requirements. He noted that TVA received no federal tax dollars.

Reporting by Jeff Mason, Pete Schroeder and Andrea Shalal; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Tom Brown