Dan Brouillette isn’t bothered by being called a creature of the "swamp" — the inner Beltway sanctum his boss, President Trump, vowed to drain on the campaign trail.
It’s part of the unflappable style Brouillette, 56, brings to the role of deputy Energy secretary — serving as Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s No. 2 — even while facing increased scrutiny amid reports Perry is considering leaving the administration.
"As in Louisiana alligator?" Brouillette, a Louisiana native and father of nine, joked during a recent interview. "I am who I am. If folks refer to me as swamp creature and that means I know something about Washington, then so be it."
Having shifted from work for the federal government to financial services lobbying and back, Brouillette (pronounced brew-yet) indeed knows about the inner workings of Washington, D.C. Today, he runs internal operations at DOE and fills in for Perry on international events, such as the Clean Energy Ministerial in Copenhagen, Denmark, or the Atlantic Council in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
He also stands to be tapped to lead DOE should rumors of Perry’s planned exit — talk the agency has repeatedly shot down — materialize. Those who know Brouillette personally say he’s already helming DOE in many ways.
"I think Perry relies on Dan’s intense knowledge," said former Louisiana Rep. Billy Tauzin, whom Brouillette worked for twice. "When you take over a big agency like that, you really need someone who can stay on top of all of the intricacies. Dan is noted for that. He’s a real info-crunch guy."
Brouillette’s hard-working reputation stems in part from his frequent public appearances and chatter among connected lobbyists. He often travels around the country, recently meeting government officials in West Virginia, in South Carolina and at the U.S.-Mexico border.
His early 2018 calendars, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, revealed he has daily briefings at the beginning and end of each day, including on cyber and personnel issues. The DOE political appointees met for a monthly happy hour outside headquarters, according to the calendars.
He appears to have spent considerable time on the phone, having calls at the time with Barbara Rusinko, executive director of engineering firm Bechtel Corp., and George David Banks, executive vice president at the American Council for Capital Formation and Trump’s then-international energy adviser.
Brouillette told E&E News that he and Perry debate internally "to provide the president with the best possible recommendation."
"We always end up in the same place on things like free markets, energy production, and security and national security," he said. "We think very much alike on those terms."
Known as "S2" by colleagues and "DB" by friends, Brouillette has had a prolific career in Washington, spanning Capitol Hill, K Street and DOE. By many accounts, he does not come across as hyperpartisan.
He is considered a "Bush guy" by conservatives who subscribe to the Trump brand of politics. In the early 2000s, he served at DOE, which focuses on America’s nuclear arsenal, nuclear waste and scientific research. In general, it is less politically charged than other parts of the executive branch. Under Perry, some say the department has not taken on a much different policy path from that of the Obama era.
"You will find both Perry and Brouillette talk a lot about an all-of-the-above strategy," said Daniel Poneman, the deputy Energy secretary in the Obama era. "That’s exactly what we used to talk about."
Agency watchers say he’s boldly stepped into the spotlight alongside Perry, taking on meaty policy issues and traveling abroad to represent DOE. "He is one of the most high-profile deputy secretaries of Energy that I can recall," said Bracewell LLP attorney Scott Segal. "He is trusted with a lot of very significant energy policy by the secretary."
Brouillette was born "Danny Ray" in the early ’60s in Paincourtville, La., a rural town in the southern part of the state that translates to "short of bread town" in French. The small community of just a few hundred people is part of Assumption Parish, where construction and manufacturing are the key trades.
His father, Ronald, was a general handyman or "tinkerer," as he was remembered in his 2005 obituary that ran in Baton Rouge’s The Advocate. The elder Brouillette, who died at age 70, was "a man of easy friendships," and he and his wife, Deanna, also had a son, Brian, in addition to Dan, according to the newspaper. Deanna still lives in Louisiana.
Tauzin, who represented a southwestern Louisiana district in Congress for 25 years, said the neighboring community of Paincourtville was a place where people learned to "live off the land" and had strong work ethics. "We came from poor families in the bayou, we were taught the value of hard work," Tauzin said. "I’m sure Dan’s folks were Depression-minded — everything is hard to come by."
After high school, Brouillette wanted to escape the bayous and travel the world, so at age 19 he joined the Army like his father and, coincidentally, was also deployed to Germany and served in the "Fulda Gap," then known as the "furthest frontier of freedom."
"It was a way to get out of southern Louisiana, where the summers are hot and the mosquitoes are very, very big," he explained. It was the Cold War era, and as a tank commander, Brouillette said he grew fascinated with nuclear weapons and national security. Brouillette would then meet his wife, Adrienne, who was working as a nurse in the Army at the time.
After the military, the pair ended up in Washington, D.C., because Adrienne was assigned to serve at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
Brouillette would then go to work for Tauzin, then his home-state Democratic congressman, as an intern in the early 1990s. The congressman said he had to repeatedly offer Brouillette raises to stop other congressional offices from poaching him. Brouillette’s colleagues on the Hill recalled he brought his serious, driven demeanor to his work in Congress, even as a 20-something-year-old. Tauzin would echo that story at Brouillette’s first DOE confirmation hearing.
"I was always asking him what it was like to drive a tank," said lobbyist and former Vice President Joe Biden staffer Jeff Peck, who worked with Brouillette in the ’90s in Tauzin’s office. "He was reluctant [to tell me]. He is not a bragger. I never really found out too much about it, even when I tried to interrogate him."
In those days, Peck recalled how he worked arduously with Brouillette to advance on the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act, which became one of the only two congressional veto overrides during former President Clinton’s eight years in office.
"To get something like that done and to defeat Bill Clinton took great leadership at the member level," Peck said. "Dan is one of the hardest-working, dedicated people I’ve ever met."
Mimi Simoneaux Kneuer, a former colleague in Tauzin’s office, recalled Brouillette had striking seriousness about him and that he was "very driven for a Southern boy whose parents probably would have been just as happy if he were home for crawfish boils every Sunday."
He and wife Adrienne would go on to have nine children — Stephen, Julia, Danielle, Sam, Catherine, Jackie, Joelle, Adelaide and Christopher — who all sat in the front row at his confirmation hearing.
When their firstborn, Stephen, was young, Brouillette and his wife thought they would try home schooling because "she being in the Army, me being a young Hill staffer, private schools were not going to be an option."
"It turned out that it’s a real passion for my wife, and as a result, she left the Army and has dedicated herself full time [to home schooling]," he said.
They now have a working farm between D.C. and Annapolis in Prince George’s County, Md., with plenty of chickens, goats, thoroughbred horses, cows — "you name it."
"It’s not as difficult as you might think," he said. "Everybody chips in."
Ties to Perry
In the late ’90s, Brouillette left the Hill to get a job as a lobbyist at R. Duffy Wall & Associates Inc. But by 2001, he went back to the government — with some reluctance — to serve as the assistant secretary for congressional and intergovernmental affairs at DOE.
At his confirmation hearing, Tauzin — who became a Republican in 1995 — said the White House had to call him to help convince Brouillette to take the DOE position. Brouillette was hesitant to leave his high-paying private-sector job given his young family.
A couple of years later, he returned to work for Tauzin — whom he referred to as "boss" long after he stopped working for him — to be the staff director for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, a high-ranking job involving managing a staff of 70 people. There, he worked on the Energy Policy Act of 2005, specifically crafting language on liquefied natural gas imports and exports.
Later, Brouillette ran the policy shop at Ford Motor Co. and then went on to be senior vice president at the United States Automobile Association (USAA) in Texas. From 2013 to 2016, he commuted back to Louisiana monthly to serve on the State Mineral and Energy Board, which leases state land to oil companies. "Being from Louisiana, he understood energy and its importance to the country," said board Chairman Paul Segura.
It is curious to some why Brouillette decided to return to Washington in 2017, given his high-paying private-sector job, short work commute and Southern roots.
"One, because I was asked to by the administration and by Perry, who I had become really good friends with," he explained. (Brouillette could not recall when he first met Perry but said it was years ago in Texas when Perry was serving as governor of the Lone Star State.)
And after a short pause, he added, "I don’t have a precise answer, I think it’s just part of [my] DNA. I joined the Army at an early age. It’s my wife’s DNA, as well. It’s just part of who we are. When you are asked, you say yes and figure out the details later."
Tauzin agreed Brouillette is known to rise to the occasion. "He’s like a Marine; he runs toward the sound of a battle," Tauzin said.
Brouillette’s ties to Perry have attracted some attention on Capitol Hill.
During his May 2017 confirmation hearing, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said the Texas "pay to play" political culture raised serious concerns and claimed Brouillette bundled and donated more than $125,000 to Perry’s gubernatorial and presidential campaign and political action committees supporting him.
Brouillette dryly replied: "I was a supporter of then-Gov. Perry and am glad to have had the opportunity to help elect him at the time."
Bracewell’s Segal dismissed such accusations and said Brouillette’s nomination wasn’t up to Perry, adding that "the choice is the choice of the president and president’s alone."
Although Brouillette and Perry often march in lockstep when it comes to policymaking, their styles are different, observers say.
"Brouillette is extremely sort of self-possessed, unflappable, calm demeanor. Whereas Perry has a personality that fills up a room," said ClearPath’s Rich Powell.
When the administration floated the controversial coal and nuclear bailout plan, Beltway energy wonks privately wondered what Brouillette thought of the idea.
Sources noted that Brouillette would be too professional to say anything to contradict his boss. He frequently retweets both Perry and Trump, and on occasion has adopted their familiar talking points.
The deputy secretary has even taken to using Perry-isms, calling the national labs "crown jewels" — a Perry favorite — and he has on occasion sounded a little like Trump — lashing out against "the war on coal" at the Atlantic Council in Abu Dhabi and talking up coal and nuclear on the Rich Zeoli talk radio show. "The sun doesn’t shine during a hurricane," he said.
Brouillette defended the president when asked if he ever feels awkward about attending international climate talks given Trump’s expressed doubt of climate change, saying, "Never, not at all actually."
"We are actually doing what other people are talking about," Brouillette said.
Echoing Perry, he said emissions have fallen while the economy grew — a claim that has been called misleading by environmentalists.
Brouillette has also shown an appreciation for learning the job. Even before he was confirmed as S2, he reached out to Poneman to ask him what the role entailed, and the two men have continued to talk on the phone, according to Brouillette’s calendars obtained through a FOIA request.
Poneman during an interview explained that the job of deputy is essentially running the department. "You need somebody who frankly has the ability to process a wide array of data, call balls and strikes," he said.
Brouillette’s interactions are notable in part because a well-read Vanity Fair article suggested the DOE transition team had little interest in understanding the work the agency actually did (Greenwire, July 28, 2017). "I used to do this, too," Poneman said. "It’s a useful thing."
When asked about his daily schedule, Brouillette would not say exactly how much of his time he spends on the road, but said his primary role is to run the agency while Perry travels the world promoting American energy. "Energy is a dynamic and exciting place to be these days," he said. "It’s impossible for one person to cover the world."
Past colleagues who shun the Trump administration say that work ethic and overall demeanor would make Brouillette an ideal fit to lead DOE should Perry step down.
"I’m no fan of the Trump administration," said Peck, the lobbyist who worked for Biden. "But it gives me some comfort to know he’s at the top."
Reporters Hannah Northey, Kevin Bogardus and Christa Marshall contributed.