Here’s a rule of thumb when it comes to dealing with organizations and agencies that rely on tax dollars: If they’re reluctant to show you what they’re doing with your money, there’s a good chance you’re not getting a good return on your investment.

Case in point is the S.C. Hydrogen Fuel Cell Alliance. In 2009, while working for my current employer, the S.C. Policy Council, I tried to verify claims made by state legislators regarding job creation and investment related to the state’s massive outlay in hydrogen technology.

Last June, House Speaker Bobby Harrell issued a press release touting that taxpayer-funded investment in hydrogen – more than $40 million in the Midlands alone – had netted the state 229 jobs.

The statement added that 65 percent of those jobs had been created in the past five years. That works out to fewer than 30 a year, as a Policy Council analysis demonstrated.

Attempts to verify the information through Harrell’s office regarding the purported 229 jobs, including a breakdown by position, location and average salary, generated no response.

So then I turned to the S.C. Hydrogen Fuel Cell Alliance, which was the source of the Speaker’s information. The Alliance did not respond initially, so a S.C. Freedom of Information Act request was sent.

The Alliance responded to the FOIA request with a copy of the fact sheet which detailed the data it sent the Speaker’s office, but provided no backup for its data.

Further attempts to determine how the Alliance arrived at its numbers for hydrogen-related job creation and investment in South Carolina have failed.

As it stands now, the only source for the number of jobs created through the tens of millions of dollars invested in hydrogen research in South Carolina is an organization that has benefitted and continues to benefit from state funding.

That organization, despite being of a scientific nature, has produced no corollary documentation and no evidence of how it arrived at the figures provided to legislators.

As such, there’s no way to tell whether South Carolina taxpayers are getting the straight scoop or are simply being lied to for the benefit of handful of technocrats and politicians willing to gamble millions of dollars in state resources on a risky technology.