Energy Policy:

Former DOE undersecretary Garman says restructuring agency will foster innovation

As the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee prepares to vote on Ernest Moniz's nomination to lead the Department of Energy, could a restructuring of the agency lead to more research and innovation on energy technologies? During today's OnPoint, David Garman, former undersecretary at DOE during the George W. Bush administration and the lead author of a new report written in collaboration with the Clean Air Task Force and Energy Innovation Reform Project, explains why he believes the agency's structure should be reformed and discusses the principal elements of the structure that require streamlining.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello, and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is David Garman, the lead author of a new report focused on restructuring the U.S. Department of Energy. David was undersecretary of Energy during the George W. Bush administration. David, thanks for joining me.

David Garman: Thanks for having me, Monica.

Monica Trauzzi: David, you've written this report with the Clean Air Task Force, and are focusing here on reforming DOE. What about your time at the agency led you to believe that a restricting needed to happen?

David Garman: Well, there's a number of things. I mean, let's just look at the track record at DOE. We started a project in 2003, FutureGen, that still hasn't broken ground. We've seen what happened with Solyndra. We've seen $30 billion go the agency as part of the Stimulus Act that really hasn't produced the results that a lot of people had hoped for.

Monica Trauzzi: And you've said that DOE's primary mission should be conducting basic and applied research for energy innovation. What is DOE's mission right now, if it's not research and innovation?

David Garman: Well, if there was a truth in advertising for cabinet agencies, DOE would be known as the Department of Nuclear Weapons, Nuclear Weapons Cleanup, Science, and Energy, in that order. Energy is sort of the lonely stepchild of the work that DOE does, and yet it has such a tremendous capacity with its 17 national laboratories to really make some fundamental breakthroughs in transformational energy technologies.

Monica Trauzzi: Secretary Chu's tenure at DOE was squarely focused on research and innovation. Could he have done more?

David Garman: Well, I think all of us who have served at DOE look back at our time and think about things that we should have done, could have done differently. Listen, those are tough jobs, and I don't want to be critical of anybody who serves them, and I don't want to be critical of Dr. Moniz, who has been there, and he's stepping into that job, and we have high hopes and expectations that he'll be able to make some differences at DOE.

Monica Trauzzi: So what are then the principle elements of DOE's current structure that you think need reform, and how would you change them?

David Garman: Well, one of the problems is that there is a institutional barrier between basic science and applied research. Those offices and that work is managed by two separate undersecretaries. You know, this work needs to be consolidated under a single undersecretary for energy and science. There's institutional stovepipes, different offices, they fight for pieces of the budget pie. There's no overarching portfolio review of the technologies. There is no analytical effort to see how these projects are moving ahead and what impact they're having in the marketplace in any kind of sustained, institutional way. There's a lot of good ad hoc things that go on at the department. Dr. Chu has tried to, you know, do some workarounds with some energy innovation hubs, and ARPA-E has kind of been layered over all this in the hopes that maybe it could do something different. But there's a host of things that Dr. Moniz could do and should do to make the department work better.

Monica Trauzzi: So is the DOE budget being mismanaged? I mean, it sounds like they're setting out to do a lot more than they're actually able to accomplish. So where are the dollars going?

David Garman: Well, that's a great question. I have encouraged folks in Congress to ask the GAO to really follow the money and see how much of the money that's intended to be spent for research and development actually makes it to the workbench of the scientist. And it's a sad answer to that question, for those brave enough to ask it.

Monica Trauzzi: So you mentioned Ernie Moniz. Dr. Moniz is in line to become Energy Secretary. He was also an undersecretary, but under the Clinton administration. Would you expect that maybe he had similar experiences to ones you had?

David Garman: I think he has, and I was reading his answers to the questions posed for the record today by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and he's addressed some of these problems, he intends to address some of these problems, with a quadrennial energy review, a real portfolio analysis, enduring analytical capability, these kinds of things. I'm encouraged by what I'm reading and seeing of Dr. Moniz and his responses to the QFRs.

Monica Trauzzi: Do we typically see marked shifts in structure at the agency when a new secretary comes into place, or would this kind of be unprecedented, if Dr. Moniz did decide to go in this direction?

David Garman: Generally what you see is folks trying to do workarounds, not trying to do the gritty work of reorganization, but instead, trying to figure out ways through ad hoc efforts to address the underlying problems. It wouldn't surprise me if Dr. Moniz did the same thing, because it is so difficult to undertake real restructuring. But as long as he's trying to address some of the problems, that's good. It would be better if he tried to do it in an enduring way that would survive after he left.

Monica Trauzzi: How much control does the agency actually have over its direction, and how much does Congress and the White House have?

David Garman: That's a great question, and I think a strong Energy secretary with strong knowledge of the subject matter can be a great advocate for real reform at the department, and a real advocate for focusing and restructuring the department on the problems it really needs to face.

Monica Trauzzi: All right. Interesting topic. Thank you for coming on the show.

David Garman: Thank you, Monica.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]