The White House is moving to halt Department of Energy work on loan guarantees and grants that the Trump administration wants to zero out next fiscal year, according to a leader of the DOE employee union.
"We are now getting reports from workers of DOE offices that are being told to cease activities, and this is of great concern," said Jeff Eagan, president of the National Treasury Employees Union Chapter 213. "Offices are being told to stop grants, stop loans, stop your activities. They’re being told to put their tools down."
Eagan said employees in three DOE offices reported in the last week that the Office of Management and Budget was telling them to halt grants and loans, even though their work is funded by congressional appropriations for fiscal 2017.
DOE declined to comment for the record. OMB didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment this morning.
Some loan guarantee and grant applications have been navigating a complex review and risk oversight process for more than a year, Eagan said.
"We don’t believe that follows the letter of the spirit of the federal process. All we have is a blueprint; we haven’t even seen the administration budget yet, much less what the ultimate product will be," Eagan said. "The administration proposes, but Congress disposes. So from our perspective, this is extraordinarily premature and unprecedented."
Reports of frozen programs for energy research and development have been surfacing as agencies prepare for President Trump’s proposed budget cuts to land on Capitol Hill next month.
DOE late last week said it was "applying good governance principles" in response to reports that it’s already starting to withhold funds for Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy grants that had been approved by the Obama administration (Greenwire, April 21).
Trump’s "skinny" fiscal 2018 budget proposal calls for eliminating ARPA-E and the agency’s loan program, which supports more than $30 billion in loans, loan guarantees and commitments for more than two dozen projects, including the world’s largest wind farm, sprawling solar and thermal energy storage systems, and more than a dozen new or retooled auto manufacturing plants.
The proposal would also zero out DOE’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing loan program while boosting spending on oversight of the nation’s nuclear stockpile (Energywire, March 16).
Funding for the Office of Science under Trump’s plan would be cut by $900 million from current levels, while the proposal would remove $2 billion in funding in all from the Weatherization Assistance Program directed to lower-income households, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the Office of Nuclear Energy, the Office of Electricity, and Fossil Energy Research & Development.
"Talking about a 17 percent cut in the civilian side of the agency is extraordinary," Eagan said. "It is lowering morale, causing people to seriously consider leaving the agency after many years of accomplishment; this is a very serious, serious threat."
While it’s unclear whether Energy Secretary Rick Perry will call for a reduction in DOE staff, other agencies like U.S. EPA are already offering early retirement and buyout packages to staff to comply with Trump’s order to reduce the workforce (Greenwire, April 19).
Eagan also said the NTEU is actively working to build coalitions and reach out to concerned organizations and members of Congress to challenge and even reverse the administration’s proposal. So far, he’s found strong congressional backing.
"We are actively pushing back," Eagan said. "And frankly, I’m more hopeful now than I was a couple weeks ago because we continue to find congressional support."