Bioenergy, Geothermal, Wind Power

DOE Reorganization – New Team, New Views

Every new Administration appoints a new political team to run the federal agencies, and they, in turn, try to shape the bureaucracy.

The Bush Administration nominated David Garman for Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy within the U.S. Department of Energy. Garman, a seasoned Hill staffer under Senator Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) knows the political energy arena well. He announced in April a complete reorganization of the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy RD&D program. The last complete reorganization was done 10 years ago by former Assistant Secretary J. Michael Davis in the prior Bush Administration. The new Assistant Secretary issued a 24-page report which had emblazoned on the cover “A New Government Business Model” and was subtitled “Streamlining and Integrating Program and Business Management for Better Performance”. These words were carefully selected because it reflected issues pushed by Republican Congressional staff during the Clinton Administration. In fact, Republican Hill staffers spent a large part of the eight years of the Clinton Administration bashing predecessor Assistant Secretaries Christine Ervin and then Dan Reicher on program management and direction. Basically, three complaints surfaced the most frequently: the RD&D programs were not well managed because there was money not spent at the end of each fiscal year; and the program directions were too allied with interests of the energy industries and the non-profit clean energy advocate groups; and the research programs were not adequately peer-reviewed and thus not substantive like other energy and science RD&D programs. Under the Clinton years, the two assistant secretaries did not tinker much with the organization setup from the prior Bush Administration and they responded to the Republican Hill complaints by competing all grants thus lowering or eliminating funding to trade and advocacy groups, enlisting the National Academy of Sciences to review RD&D programs and contracting with a national management organization to review DOE program management practices. Assistant Secretary Garman’s redesigned programs moved out all the five Deputy Assistant Secretaries who managed programs that were established along side the consumer markets – Buildings, Electric Power, Transportation, Industrial and State and Local Government. These senior government officials are now moved into an oversight Board without control of the program dollars. In the government bureaucracy, if you do not control money, you do not control programs. Next, the reorganization essentially divided the entire organization under two Deputy Assistant Secretaries. A Management Deputy Assistant Secretary (actually called DAS for Business Administration) oversees three offices: Program Execution Support, Planning Budget Formulation & Analysis and Information Business Management Systems. The other Deputy Assistant Secretary for Technology Development actually oversees the implementation of the ongoing RD&D programs. The reorganization of the RD&D programs now tend to be divorced from their end use customers. Eight of the eleven RD&D programs are now just technology R&D programs: Solar, Wind and Hydropower, Geothermal, Distributed Energy and Electricity Infrastructure, Biomass, Freedom car and Transportation Technologies, Hydrogen and Infrastructure, and Weatherization & Intergovernment Grants. Three of the end use R&D programs are maintained: Buildings, Industrial Technologies and Federal Energy Management Programs (FEMP). All management program director positions were made “open” and interview sessions were conducted, and two program managers of the 14 were retained in the Wind and FEMP RD&D programs. The bottom-line is lots of new faces are running lots of reorganized programs. The Assistant Secretary based the reorganization on many issues, but the top three seem to be: 1) flatten the organization to remove layers between the Assistant Secretary and the RD&D program managers 2) end overlapping and inefficiencies including turf battles 3) strengthen focus and program management. From this author’s viewpoint, the reorganization will likely accomplish these goals. Having a more solid administration oversight function can utilize resources to track both dollars and performance in better and more useful ways. Removing the Deputy Assistant Secretaries who were “rulers” of their end use program areas will allow the new Assistant Secretary to influence program direction more effectively and reduce the turf battles exhibited between the prior five Deputy Assistant Secretaries. But the reorganization appears to have three setbacks. First, the usual problem with reorganizations are that it takes a few years for these reorganizations to get rhythm and be effective and the ironic result that it will likely yield even greater unspent funds at the end of the fiscal year, the very complaint Republican energy and appropriations Congressional staffers lodged at the prior Administration. Second, some very good program managers were moved out not because they mis-performed but rather for the need to show “who’s in control”. Third, moving technology R&D programs from their corresponding end use sectors will likely slow the movement of government R&D to the private sector, an inelegant process to begin with. There may have been better ways to resolve “stove piping” (an inside the beltway term for the lack of technology sharing). All this said, new administrations and new political appointees like to leave their mark. Assistant Secretary Garman as been an articulate spokesman for the efficiency and Renewable Energy programs. Now with a revamped program and new set of program managers, he has the opportunity to drive better focus, better management and better results. My follow-up articles will take viewpoints from those in industry and academia on particular programs, their directions and opportunities – allowing you, the reader, to track progress and results. About the Author Scott Sklar is the President of The Stella Group, Ltd., a strategic marketing and policy firm facilitating distributed energy generation which leverages key partners, financing and unique customer relationships for applications utilizing advanced batteries, concentrated solar energy, fuel cells, microgenerators, modular biomass, photovoltaics, small wind and “smart” interconnection.