There's a new office generating buzz and big expectations at the Department of Energy.
Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who launched the policy shop as part of a larger DOE overhaul, is stocking it with top talent from the climate and energy arenas and is giving it big responsibilities for carrying out President Obama's climate change plan.
"It's where all the cool kids on the block are going," said a former DOE senior staff member who's now an energy consultant. "They are the rock stars of DOE."
At the helm of the new Office of Energy Policy and Systems Analysis is Melanie Kenderdine, who worked with Moniz at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Energy Initiative as well as at DOE during the Clinton administration. She's expected to have a lot of clout with the secretary.
"In addition to their close, personal association at MIT, Melanie is someone who I would put in the top three or four people who has an ability to know all the fuels," said Charles Ebinger, director of the Energy Security Initiative at the Brookings Institution. He noted her broad-based expertise that includes subjects like natural gas, renewable energy and nuclear power.
Kenderdine is assembling a savvy team that includes battle-hardened veterans of the failed congressional efforts to pass climate legislation. With prospects for major climate and energy bills all but dead, the new staffers are hoping to have a big impact on energy policy through the executive branch.
"A lot of great people have left the Hill because they can see that Congress for the time being is not going to be on the cutting edge of these issues," said Manik Roy, vice president for strategic outreach at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. "There are some bigger-ticket items now in the executive branch."
Former U.S. EPA senior official Michael Goo is one of the latest recruits to join Kenderdine's team. Goo comes from a post as associate administrator for EPA's Office of Policy, where he was charged with overseeing regulations going through White House reviews and providing policy advice. He also worked on the climate bill that passed the House in 2009 as chief counsel to the now-defunct House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.
Goo's joining an already-stacked lineup of high-profile staffers.
Karen Wayland, who'll head up state and local coordination in the new office, was a senior adviser on energy and environmental issues to then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Judi Greenwald -- who has taken the helm of climate, environment and energy efficiency issues -- has worked at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, in Congress and as a senior adviser to the Clinton White House's Climate Change Task Force. Jonathan Pershing, former special envoy for climate change at the State Department, joined the team as principal deputy director in addition to another post in the Policy and International Affairs Office.
"Moniz is a talent magnet," said Margot Anderson, executive director of the Bipartisan Policy Center's energy project and former DOE deputy assistant secretary for policy analysis. "I suspect there are many smart, talented, dedicated people who are eager to work on his team."
In addition to having Moniz's ear on setting DOE policy, new employees have also been lured by the prospect of helping to draft an energy road map that lays out national energy goals over four years.
Obama called for the Quadrennial Energy Review as part of the sweeping climate plan he announced in June. The White House will lead the charge, but DOE is expected to play the main supporting role. Moniz told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee earlier this year that the QER is his top priority (Greenwire, April 16).
"This is going to produce a four-year policy horizon and policy prescription, but we're really looking at how do we affect what the energy infrastructure looks like in 2030," Wayland said at a September symposium. "We will be producing recommendations for legislation, administrative action, an agenda for financial incentives, and research and development to support the modernization and transformation of our energy infrastructure."
Energy policy watchers say that's an attractive project that's helping DOE recruitment.
"Now you have a mandate, you have a secretary who is obviously very engaged with that mandate and you have a department that has a strong, important role in that mandate," Roy said.
Paul Bledsoe, a senior fellow on energy and climate at the German Marshall Fund and a former climate aide in the Clinton White House, said, "The centrality of climate change in the president's vision for his second term, I think, has made government service newly attractive to a great many people."
DOE declined to provide a staff list for the new office, but it's expected to have about 60 employees across five main sections: finance; energy security; state and local cooperation; systems integration; and climate, environment and energy efficiency.
In addition to the outsiders flocking to the new office, DOE is also drawing in staff from across the department.
Hugh Chen, formerly with DOE's Office of the Chief Financial Officer, is deputy director for finance, incentives and program analysis; Carmine Difiglio, formerly deputy assistant secretary for policy analysis at DOE, is deputy director for energy security; and William Hederman Jr., formerly of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Congressional Budget Office, is the office's deputy director for systems integration (Greenwire, Sept. 18).
DOE employees in other offices have also been tapped to pitch in: Jonathan Elkind, acting assistant secretary for the Office of Policy and International Affairs; Carol Battershell from the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy; and Carl Pechman, an economist with FERC, according to a source close to the new office.
A separate DOE policy office isn't a new idea. In fact, Moniz is resurrecting an office that was there under President Clinton but was combined with international affairs under the George W. Bush administration. Kenderdine served as director of the policy office during the Clinton administration.
"It's sort of back to the future," said David Conover, senior vice president at Grayling and former acting assistant secretary for policy and international affairs at DOE in the Bush administration. He said it would be advantageous to Moniz to have a focused and dedicated policy staff, given the administration's focus on greenhouse gas reductions and EPA regulations.
Kenderdine "certainly has the skill and vision to create a strong analytically based policy shop at DOE," Anderson said. Under the Clinton administration, DOE "had a healthy policy office" that was doing a lot of analysis on climate change policy, electricity deregulation and fuel standards, she added.
Wayland said in September that the office has had a stronger emphasis on international affairs than on domestic policy in recent years. "And what I think happened was that within the programs, they saw a real need for domestic policy expertise and function and began to build out their own policy functions," she said. "The Department of Energy is famous for stovepipes."
Moniz is trying to break down those barriers, Wayland said, by pulling "some of the policy people and functions out of the programs and put them in a shop that reports directly to him so he can have more direct but also more coordinated advice to him on policy development and analysis."
But eliminating stovepipes at the massive agency with offices and labs scattered throughout the country is no easy task.
"In any gigantic agency, it's always a challenge to get everybody rowing in the same direction," Roy said.
"The success of any of these approaches ultimately comes down to how they're managed. Will the secretary use this policy office to catalyze more policy thinking by the technology offices? Or will they sort of become this ivory tower?" Roy said. "My hunch is he doesn't want to make it an ivory tower any more than anybody else does."
Not Chu's DOE
The separate policy office is part of Moniz's broader approach to reshape the agency. He's widely seen as more politically savvy than his predecessor, Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, and he's bringing in staffers with the chops to back that up.
Chu "really is a brilliant man -- there's no question about that -- but Ernie's quite a different character," Ebinger said.
Moniz "knows how to play the political game in Washington, how to make his department a player," he added, predicting that the policy office will play a big part in that.
Moniz is no stranger to Washington, D.C. He joined the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy as associate director for science in 1995 and was undersecretary at DOE from 1997 through the end of the Clinton administration. He also served on the President's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology from 2009 until this year.
Observers say some of the style differences are in part due to the issues the agency leaders must address.
Under Chu, DOE was confronted with getting stimulus money out the door, and the Obama administration was still optimistic about getting a major climate and energy package passed by Congress. Then the agency was confronted with the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and a nuclear disaster in Japan.
Moniz, meanwhile, has assumed the helm of the agency during Obama's second term as federal budgets are getting increasingly tighter and DOE has been charged with setting out a long-term plan for national energy policy.
In addition to splitting up the domestic and international office, Moniz has also created a new undersecretary for management and performance to improve DOE's budget overruns and delays and plans to combine the undersecretary of science and energy to bring some cohesion and framework to the national labs and DOE programs for basic and applied research and development (E&E Daily, July 22).
"A secretary needs to surround him or herself with people that solve the problems with which they are confronted," Anderson said.
Reporter Nick Juliano contributed.
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