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Obama Administration Defends Jobs Record of Loan Program That Backed Solyndra

The Energy Department is pushing back hard against reports that its $38.6 billion loan guarantee program, designed to ignite the nation's clean energy sector, has created only 3,500 permanent jobs -- despite spending half the allocated amount already and boasting it would create or save 64,000 jobs.

A spokesman for the Energy Department told FoxNews.com on Thursday that the program has created or saved 44,000 jobs since it was established under President Obama's 2009 stimulus package and is on track to meet its goal once the remaining 14 projects competing for government-backed loan guarantees are completed.

The Energy Department also defended the program on a White House blog.

"Over the past two years, the Department of Energy’s Loan Program has supported a robust, diverse portfolio of more than 40 projects that are investing in pioneering companies as we work to regain American leadership in the global race for clean energy jobs," Energy Department spokesman Dan Leistikow wrote.

The program has come under intense scrutiny since the first recipient, Solyndra, filed for bankruptcy last month, potentially leaving taxpayers with a half-billion-dollar tab. Federal authorities are now investigating the company.

As to the jobs that are on the table -- through the 40 different projects already approved for government loan guarantees -- The Washington Post reported Thursday that only 3,545 new permanent jobs have been directly created. 

The Energy Department responded in its blog that the newspaper ignored 33,000 American auto jobs saved at Ford Motor Co., and more than 7,300 construction jobs for building wind and solar power plants.

"In fact, when you look at the Washington Post's graphic, you can see that the program has already created or saved roughly 44,000 jobs," Leistikow wrote. “Many of the projects it has funded are just getting going, and many of the loans won't even go out the door until the next few weeks. Others have not ramped fully up to scale. But we are on pace to achieve more than 60,000 direct jobs -- and many more in the supply chain."

The Post article did mention the 33,000 figure but cited several economists casting doubt.

"I always take these job estimates with a big grain of salt,” Harvard Business School professor Josh Lerner told the newspaper. “There tends to be a lot of fuzzy math when it comes to calculating these benefits (regardless of the party taking credit for the program)."

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Thursday that President Obama stands by the program to ensure that companies don't default against bank loans. 

"The president remains absolutely committed to the program and the idea that we cannot cede these industries to our competitors globally," he said. "That’s not an option as the president sees it."

Republicans, meanwhile are slamming the program as one designed by the administration to let government pick which firms survive. 

"Them deciding that their buddies in some solar company deserve half a billion dollars, that's a mistaken philosophy," Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., told Fox News Thursday. "That's the government choosing the winners and losers. We need to let the consumer choose the winners and losers."

Damien LaVera, a spokesman for the Energy Department, rejected that argument.

"This isn't about picking winners or losers,” he told FoxNews.com. “It’s deciding whether we’re going to compete.”

He said most industry analysts believe solar power will generate 50 percent of the world's electricity in the next 50 years, leading to trillions of dollars in solar cells being manufactured.

“Those are jobs that can be here or in China,” he said. “The innovative technology will either be invented here and sold around the world. Or they will be invented in other places and bought in America. We believe we can compete and win in the clean energy marketplace of tomorrow if we make the investments."

But with Solyndra demonstrating the pitfalls of government-backed production, lawmakers say the market may be the only place that makes sense. 

"This administration was rushed, reckless and so focused on their green agenda, they were killing red-white-and-blue energy jobs that they made terrible mistakes," said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., told Fox Business Network.

"My concern here is that we have a colossal failure here in the Department of Energy with regards to this loan guarantee," Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, ranking member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said. "It's calling into question every loan guarantee that has been issued and quite clearly any future loan guarantees that will go forward."