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By Rebecca Kern
The Energy Department is making broad changes with a reorganization that shuffles offices under two new undersecretaries—one for energy and one for science—in what agency leadership calls an effort to improve efficiency.
“We are aligning the agency’s organization to its statutory requirement and its mission,” Deputy Secretary Dan Brouillette told Bloomberg Environment in an exclusive interview.
“This president and secretary have made it very clear that we will pursue an all-of-the-above energy strategy that is, in fact, the historical mission of the department,” Brouillette said. DOE staff was told about the reorganization in a meeting the morning of Dec. 15, and it went into effect that day.
Brouillette said no employees will be laid off in this reorganization.
The reorganization involves moving offices from the previous “Office of the Under Secretary for Science and Energy” into two separate offices: the “Office of the Under Secretary of Energy” and “Office of the Under Secretary for Science.”
Former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz created the combined office in 2013, under the leadership of former Undersecretary for Science and Energy Lynn Orr.
The department returns to the structure it had during the tenure of Steven Chu, the first energy secretary in the Obama administration, with three undersecretaries. Mark Menezes is the undersecretary for energy (the No. 3) and Paul Dabbar is the undersecretary for science (the No. 4). They were sworn into their positions in early November.
Frank Klotz, an Obama holdover, remains in his role as undersecretary for nuclear security overseeing the National Nuclear Security Administration (the No. 5).
“We will remove some of the administrative functions from the under secretaries, who are charged with execution of primary missions within the department. To the extent we can increase efficiency by moving these functions to the deputy secretary, it allows people to focus on the jobs they were hired to do,” Brouillette said.
Brouillette said he wanted to return the agency to the structure that was laid out in the Department of Energy Organization Act that was signed into law in 1977 and defines the responsibilities for the department.
The Office of the Under Secretary for Energy will retain its applied science programs—the offices of Fossil Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Nuclear Energy, and Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability—as well as the Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs. All of these were previously under the Office of the Under Secretary for Science and Energy.
Additions include the Loan Programs Office and the Office of Policy, which used to be called Office of Energy Policy and Systems Analysis.
The Trump administration’s fiscal 2018 budget request originally proposed cutting the Office of Energy Policy and Systems, which had changed names under Moniz. It grew dramatically in size and budget and was responsible for issuing the quadrennial energy reviews providing policy recommendations to improve the electric grid and energy infrastructure.
An official at the Energy Department’s National Treasury Employees Union, which represents DOE employees, said keeping the office intact was a good sign.
“It’s very positive that the Energy Policy and Systems Analysis Office, that had been endangered eight months ago, is being firmly established as an important office in the organization under the new under secretary,” the union official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he had not received permission from his superiors to speak publicly, told Bloomberg Environment.
The Office of the Under Secretary for Energy replaces the Office of Under Secretary for Management and Performance. Administrative functions of the management and performance office, including human relations and hearings and appeals, have moved under the leadership of Brouillette, the No. 2 at the agency under Energy Secretary Rick Perry.
Meanwhile, the Office of the Under Secretary for Science will oversee the Office of Science and the department’s national laboratories. It also will oversee the offices responsible for nuclear weapons cleanup, the offices of Environmental Management and Legacy Management, which were moved from the previous Office of Under Secretary for Management and Performance.
Orr, the former undersecretary for science and energy under Moniz, raised some concerns about separating the basic fundamental science programs from the applied energy science programs.
“The fact that they have separated it that way, that doesn’t prevent coordination across the programs. It just [requires] more effort,” he told Bloomberg Environment. “This separation of applied and fundamental, I don’t think it’s very helpful because virtually every improvement, for example in energy efficiency, is based on some material science some of which has pretty fundamental aspects to it.”
Additionally, Robert Cowin, the director of government affairs for the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Climate & Energy Program, called the changes a step back for research at the Energy Department.
“The whole idea of the national labs is to take science at every level of research and develop applications of that science,” Cowin told Bloomberg Environment. “When you separate basic from applied you won’t have as much of an impact on research on new technologies and achieve new breakthroughs. It is fundamentally an error.”
Moniz’s office at the Energy Futures Initiative, where he is a principal, declined to comment. Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s top Democrat, also declined to comment.
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