This story was updated at 2:52 p.m. EDT.
The Trump administration’s plans to reshuffle key offices within the Department of Energy are drawing fire from former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.
To implement former President Obama’s Climate Action Plan and coordinate DOE research, Moniz merged two undersecretary positions in 2013, an arrangement that President Trump wants to unravel.
In an email to E&E News, Moniz asked, "Is this part of the [Trump administration’s] autopilot inclination to reverse any step taken in the last administration independent of performance?"
Critics of the plan say they are concerned the restructuring could weaken research and an already understaffed department, while its supporters say there are benefits to making a change.
Moniz responded to an inquiry about a Trump announcement this week to nominate Mark Wesley Menezes and Paul Dabbar to be undersecretary of energy and undersecretary of science, respectively (E&E Daily, July 12).
Moniz consolidated those two positions to put all research and development and the national laboratories under one roof (E&E Daily, July 11, 2013). In part, the idea was to improve integration of labs in the Office of Science and those under the umbrella of applied energy offices.
"We must have the ability to closely integrate and move quickly among basic science, applied research, technology demonstration and deployment. The innovation chain is not linear," Moniz wrote in a memo at the time.
The massive reorganization involved creation of an undersecretary of management and performance position to improve defense-waste cleanup initiatives. The Office of Environmental Management fell under the new undersecretary.
In 2014, Lynn Orr became the first undersecretary of science and energy, with oversight over not just the Office of Science, but the offices of Fossil Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, Nuclear Energy, and Indian Energy Policy and Programs. Later, the Office of Technology Transitions was housed in the same arm.
DOE spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes said in an email that DOE is following federal statutes established prior to Moniz and that undersecretary of energy is not a new position. She confirmed that the Moniz-era undersecretary of science and energy is being split up.
"The Department is simply restoring the title designated to this position in accordance with federal law," Hynes said. She did not comment on whether DOE would eliminate the Moniz-era undersecretary of management and performance.
A DOE official cited three federal statutes establishing the separate undersecretary of science and undersecretary of energy positions, along with a third undersecretary for nuclear security and administration. The Obama administration was the first to deviate from the designated titles, the official said.
Moniz said in the email that one undersecretary for science and energy "had a demonstrably positive impact in better integrating crosscutting science/energy research initiatives and in bringing thirteen national laboratories under one undersecretary. I would ask what metrics were used to revert to the previous arrangement."
He added, "I believe that the integration of the second Obama term also had strong bipartisan support in Congress, in no small part because of [the] improved system for multiprogram efforts and lab management. So the question I would ask of the Administration is what reasoning led them to conclude that separation leads to more effective government."
Supporters of Moniz’s approach say that there’s a need for a manager on defense cleanup and that one undersecretary of science position was redundant, since there’s already an Office of Science director. Changing the structure now could strain the department, they say.
Jeff Navin, a DOE deputy chief of staff during the Obama administration and co-founder and partner at Boundary Stone Partners, said Moniz’s changes reflected a "deep understanding of how the department is structured" and its inherent strengths and weaknesses. Moniz served as undersecretary of energy from 1997 to 2001.
"There wasn’t really any opposition to Moniz’s changes internally or externally, because they were pretty straightforward, made good sense and were transparently explained. It would be helpful for Perry to lay out his justification for reverting back to the old model, if for no other reason than giving the DOE enterprise, Congress and the public some insight into his thinking on managing the department," Navin said.
He said Moniz had every right to shift functions of the undersecretaries, as long as they didn’t run afoul of the original "vague" statutory language establishing three undersecretaries.
‘There should be a reorganization’
DOE reorganization was pushed early in the transition effort, according to sources familiar with the discussions.
When asked about the potential changes at the agency, Jack Spencer, vice president for the conservative Heritage Foundation’s Institute for Economic Freedom and Opportunity, said it makes sense to separate science and energy and eliminate offices involved in applied sciences.
"Anything that’s a direct subsidy to the industry, we get rid of," said Spencer, who served as a member of Trump’s DOE landing team. "Anything that’s science would go into the appropriate science office."
The undersecretary of energy, for example, would oversee power marketing administrations, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and possibly an office to oversee the Yucca Mountain program, should it be reconstituted, as well as international affairs, transmission and the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the agency’s statistical arm. An undersecretary of science would then oversee offices involved in technology transfer, the national labs and other matters, he said.
"You’d get all of your science activities under one line of management and all of your outward-facing energy activities under one management unit," he said. "I’d argue it allows you to put the focus on what I think the Department of Energy should be doing."
Tom Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance, who oversaw Trump’s transition for DOE, said Moniz’s restructuring was "not the most orderly" and that Energy Secretary Rick Perry has his own priorities.
"Of course there will be, and there should be, a reorganization of the department," Pyle said.
Moniz has been more vocal of late, announcing a new nonprofit last month, Energy Futures Initiative, that will tackle various research topics, including a grid study as its first project.
In an op-ed in the Houston Chronicle this month, Moniz also criticized the Trump administration’s plan to sell off half the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.