Departure of 3 top officials forces Chu to reshuffle lineup

A trio of top officials, including acting Undersecretary of Energy Cathy Zoi, are stepping down from the Department of Energy, Secretary Steven Chu announced in an agency memo set to be released today.

Zoi, who also serves as assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy (EERE), will be leaving the agency on March 10 to head to a private-sector post in California. In addition, Chu's chief of staff, Rod O'Connor, will leave the agency on March 18 for a job at a sports and entertainment company based in London. General counsel Scott Harris has also announced that he will soon be leaving DOE.

The loss of Zoi comes at a time when DOE is being asked by President Obama to make major new investments in clean energy technology.

Since being confirmed by the Senate in 2009, Zoi has managed the agency's applied science, research, development and deployment portfolio and also oversaw $30 billion in funding DOE received under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Daniel Weiss, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, said today that Zoi's departure will deprive the agency of one of its most effective advocates for investments in clean tech and energy efficiency.


"Her departure will make it more difficult for President Obama to implement the energy innovation agenda in his State of the Union and proposed 2012 budget," Weiss said.

Chu praised Zoi for her work in helping promote the agency's clean energy initiatives in his letter today.

"Cathy's deep commitment to advancing a clean energy future has been evident in every venture of which she's been a part," he said.

With Zoi's departure, Arun Majumdar, director of DOE's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, has been tapped to take over her undersecretary duties while also maintaining his current role. Henry Kelly, who currently serves as principal deputy assistant secretary for the EERE office, will take over as acting assistant secretary for the office.

An agency official would not say today exactly what Zoi's new job will be but noted that more details on that would be available later this week.

Prior to joining DOE, Zoi helped found the Alliance for Climate Protection, where she launched the Repower America campaign with former Vice President Al Gore. In the Clinton White House, Zoi served as deputy director and chief of staff for environmental policy and also as a manager at U.S. EPA.

With O'Connor's departure, Brandon Hurlbut, the agency's current deputy chief of staff, will step into the role of acting chief of staff.

"Rod has helped to guide the work of this Department from the first days of this Administration, and I, just like you, will miss his leadership and wise counsel," Chu said.

In addition, the deputy general counsel for environment and nuclear programs, Sean Lev, will soon take over the job of acting general counsel.

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