Dear Gov. Perry:
Welcome to the Department of Energy. It is a cornucopia of scientific wonders, brilliant people and, to be true, some duplication and wasted effort.
Oil, natural gas and coal are not the overriding concern of the DOE. Until President Jimmy Carter created it in 1977, fossil fuels were the province of the Department of the Interior.
The DOE was preceded by the Energy Research and Development Administration. This was a short-lived agency that combined the non-regulatory functions of the Atomic Energy Commission with the fossil fuel responsibilities of the Interior Department.
To be sure, DOE has had a manful role in coal gasification, fracking and carbon capture and storage.
But its main role is to be the nation’s armorer; to build and maintain the U.S. stockpile of nuclear weapons, and to detect bad guys testing weapons in places like North Korea and Iran.
The department has 17 major laboratories, headed by the three big weapons labs: Los Alamos, Sandia and Lawrence Livermore.
In your own state of Texas, as you must know, is the Pantex facility. That is where the weapons are constructed and dismantled. That is ground zero, if you will, of weapons making. That where the “pits” are assembled and disassembled. Weapons are designed and engineered in the weapons laboratories.
You will find that cleanup of nuclear waste — much of it from earlier weapons production — in places like Hanford, Wash., and Los Alamos, N.M., is a continuing and seemingly endless task that chews up talent and money.
Some of the other work of the DOE may surprise you. It was a major player in the human genome project and it helps U.S. companies improve their manufacturing technology. It has developed ceramics for all sorts of non-nuclear uses, like car engines. Its work with 3-D seismic and advanced drill bits has made the fracking revolution possible.
You are, in fact, about to lead the largest science department anywhere in the world.
When you get the feel of the place, one hopes that talk of disbanding it will disappear. Likewise wild talk about rooting out climate science, which has the department in shock. The DOE is not part of climate science conspiracy. Please examine your charge before you trash it.
The DOE national laboratory system is a national treasure, the science mind of the nation. It collaborates with dozens of universities.
If President-elect Trump is determined to renegotiate the Iranian deal, you will be a player. The present secretary, Ernie Moniz, handled the negotiations brilliantly for the treaty we have with Iran. He knew as much about the workings of a hydrogen bomb and its supply chain as his opponent, Ali Akbar Salehi, who also went MIT. If there is another negotiation as the president-elect has suggested, you will have to support the chief negotiator, the secretary of state, with expertise from your department.
First and foremost, the DOE is a nuclear agency, charged with making the weapons that protect the nation. But it also does some amazingly disparate things at its labs, from improving coal combustion to studying cancer to examining the very nature of matter. And, of course, climate science. It has been said that it takes a new secretary a year to find out what the department does.
Because the DOE operates in many states through the laboratory system, Congress rides it hard. Congressmen fight for dollars and projects in their states. An example — and one you will have to adjudicate — is the battle over whether to continue with the construction and operation of the mixed oxide fuel fabrication facility at the Savannah River Site. The Obama administration has said it should be terminated; Congress says no.
As there is throughout government, there is waste in the lab system. But it is a small problem compared with its huge value to the nation. A suggestion: work on making it even more user friendly to technology transfer. That is how we assure the future of U.S. competitiveness: science and more science.
You have a great charge, Gov. Perry, and it has very little to do with oil.
Jay Leininger says
The above description of the Department of Energy is a far cry from the department’s original charter – to aid the US in achieving energy independence. If not eliminated, I think as a minimum the department should be reduced consistent with its original charter.
Excellent letter. I wonder if Rick Perry or anyone on his staff will read it.
Paul Krishna says
Excellent letter. However, a bit disappointed that it did not mention the Yucca Mountain project where close to $ 30 billion were spent. Disposal of High Level Nuclear Waste should be a national priority.
Prof. Keran O'Brien says
RUTH WEINER says
Prof. Keran O'Brien says
Weill said. I worked for the Atomic energy Commission, the Energy Research and Development Administration and then for the Department of Energy for a total of 32 years, Our concern was radioactivity from fallout and the radiation exposure to the general population, including natural radiation. At that time, we and others were concerned about harm to the population from external radiation exposure and exposure from internal sources such as radio iodine in milk.
Robert M. (Mark) Forssell says
Don’t forget the huge expense involved with the development of the Trident submarine replacement. I don’t know the split between DOE and Navy on the costs, but the new reactor for this new submarine class will be on DOE’s shoulders. The Navy’s share is being taken out of the normal Navy budget – it’s expense would sink much of the Navy’s operations and development, if left in its normal budget.
Thomas Dolan says
Please learn about molten salt-cooled nuclear reactors, which can generate electricity while incinerating radioactive waste from present nuclear power plants.
Mark Watson says
I have found any government agency budget can be cut 10% without any impact on service provided as long as you start with cutting high level, non-technical managers followed by the pet projects they promote vice the projects advised by middle and lower level management that they recommend until you reach 10%. An additional 10% (or much more) can be saved by engaging small contractors to do work only offered to large, connected contractors.
Ruth Weiner says
It is also critically important that Yucca Mountain be resurrected (and I use that word advisedly). Trying to kill Yucca Mountain was an egregious act that violated the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. The Blue Ribbon Commission was created as a sop to the critics of Obama’s action. In spite of wildly fluctuating budgets and endless spurious criticisms by the anti-nuclear contingent, the Department of Energy did an excellent scientific evaluation of the proposed repository. Please let’s just get on with it.
And let’s resurrect the Keystone pipeline as well.
Robert Hanflinbg says
WOW, someone who actually knows what DOE does (although you left out FEO and FEA, but who cares).
I have been directly involved in 4 transitions and in three of them (Hazel excepted) they had no clue as to what the department did – remember Spence Abraham??? Jim Edwards??? (who at least was a very nice person).
Anyway, good try!!!
Bob and Phyllis