Teats on a Bull

Willis Eschenbach is my favorite writer at wattsupwiththat.com. You really need to read his latest, “The DOE vs. Ugly Reality”.

It seems the Washington Post has the vapors over a letter that the Trump transition team sent to the Department of Energy. In it, the Trump team asks 74 probing questions of the agency, asking it to clarify such things as

  • the role of DOE staff and scientists in the climate debate;
  • DOE’s controversial “green energy” loan program;
  • redundancy in programs at the national labs;
  • Congressional authorization for staff and programs;
  • politicization of the Energy Information Agency (EIA), the primary data-gathering and reporting arm of DOE;

and so on.

If this is typical of the level of scrutiny that all the departments will undergo, it’s a wonderful thing.

Obama’s Fiscal Year budget for DOE is $32.5 billion. You can find out how they spend it, if you are patient enough to cut through the bureaucratese, here.

Jimmy Carter created the Department of Energy in 1977, largely as a response to the second Arab oil embargo and a perceived shortage of natural gas. I graduated college in 1978 with a degree in petroleum engineering and have been engaged in the oil and gas business ever since. It may come as a surprise to the lay reader that the DOE plays almost no role in regulating the domestic oil and gas industry. (That role largely belongs to the Department of the Interior.)

 

It’s not that DOE doesn’t do important things. Some 20% of their budget goes toward cleaning up the nation’s Cold War-vintage environmental mess at Hanford WA, Savannah River SC and other places. The EIA is a great repository of energy statistics (a soon to be an apolitical one).

We also have to thank the DOE’s labs for the compact fluorescent light bulb and the mandate for dimmer clocks on our microwave ovens.

Ultimately, Jimmy Carter’s Energy Crisis was solved by the private sector. DOE labs participated with research and helped with seed money in the early days of shale drilling, but the credit for success belongs overwhelmingly to the private sector.

The oil and gas private sector has been under repeated economic stress. Thanks to price-driven boom-and-bust cycles, with severe busts in 1986, 1992, 1999, 2008 and 2014-16.

But as a government bureaucracy, the DOE’s growth has been steady throughout. In DC, 6% annual budget growth is a baseline, less than that is considered a cut.

It is high time that a government agency have to answer the questions facing the private sector every day.

  • Is what you are doing authorized?
  • Is it justified?
  • Is it redundant with another program, inside our agency or outside?
  • Is it critical to our mission?

 

Of course the Washington Post is offended. Unchecked government bureaucracy is the Capitol region’s primary economic driver. I am highly encouraged that the Trump team is asking the right questions.

 

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