Communications Contract Cuts May Signal DOE Shift From Clean Energy

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By Rebecca Kern

The Energy Department has cut its clean energy communications contract—after spending $41.6 million over the past four years—to $1.47 million in the coming year, according to the Bloomberg Government contracts database.

The move to reduce the number of contractors who provide external communications about the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Office comes after the White House and Energy Secretary Rick Perry proposed a 66 percent cut to the office in fiscal year 2019, following a 69 percent proposed cut last year. The Trump administration has focused on boosting fossil fuel use and nuclear energy.

The reduction of the contract reflects a movement away from highlighting the agency’s clean energy work to the public, three former DOE contractors whose contracts ended on March 13 as part of the downsizing, and who asked to remain anonymous, told Bloomberg Environment.

The clean energy communications contract is a joint venture between The Hannon Group and BCS Inc. The companies didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Dropped Value

The contract was awarded on March 14, 2014, and extended until March 13, 2018. It supported approximately 70 EERE communications contractors, the former DOE contractors said. The DOE and the contractors did not provide the number of contractors cut.

The contract dropped to approximately $1.47 million through March 13, 2019, with an option to increase spending.

In light of budget constraints, the DOE is working on finding greater efficiencies within the agency for its communications work, an Energy Department spokesperson told Bloomberg Environment, speaking on condition of anonymity about the reason for the reduction in contract spending.

The DOE spokesperson said the department was working to increase collaboration between the program offices and the Office of Public Affairs.

With fewer contractors writing press releases and blog posts, the public will learn less of the department’s “clean energy successes,” Jamie Nolan, founder and principal of Nolan Strategic Communications, told Bloomberg Environment. She formerly was the communications director for the SunShot Initiative, a solar energy program within EERE.

“What you’ll see as a result of this decision is the volume will significantly be dialed down in the amount of communications to the public about the important work happening at EERE to make renewable energy more affordable and accessible for every day Americans,” Nolan said.

Contract Focused on External Communications

The contract originally was intended to “provide services to enhance EERE’s capability for communicating its technology programs, initiatives, successes, and accomplishments to the American public, the media, industry sectors, Congress, and other stakeholders,” according to a March 14, 2014, statement from The Hannon Group.

The Energy Department has made an effort “specifically within EERE to downplay the importance of clean energy initiatives and their potential effects at mitigating climate change,” Andrew Bergman, a volunteer member of the website monitoring team at the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative, told Bloomberg Environment. EDGI is a nonprofit corporation that works to archive public environmental data and ensure its continued public availability.

Some of the positions are in limbo.

Up to 10 contractors in the Bioenergy Technologies Office within EERE have been put on paid time off leave while BCS Inc. determines if it can find new contracts for them, one former DOE contractor, who wanted to remain anonymous to keep options open for a new contract, told Bloomberg Environment.

The former DOE contractors said that as part of the contract cut, the agency was moving a small number of the communications staff within the technical program offices of EERE to the front communications EERE office and the department’s Office of Public Affairs.

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