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US Department of Energy and Nuclear weapons



Hank Greely sent the most detailed account of the Department of Energy and nuclear weapons: "I worked for the Department of Energy from October 1979 to January 1980. The design, production, and testing of nuclear weapons had been intentionally kept out of military hands since shortly after World War II, when the Atomic Energy Commission was created. (It may be fair to date the separation even earlier, but I don't know whether the Manhattan Project should, or should not, be classified as "military".) The AEC was given very broad jurisdiction over nuclear power, both military and domestic. This led eventually to it having the conflicting responsibilities for promoting nuclear energy and regulating it. Once civilian nuclear power became controversial, this conflict of interest became politically unsustainable and the AEC was broken up into the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA) (I think I've got the right words to go with the acronym). At about the same time, the 1973 oil embargo exploded into the "first"energy crisis. Nixon's 1971 wage and price controls on the entire economy (an amazing action, when you stop and think about it, for a Republican president, perhaps akin to the steel import limits and pork-barrel farm bills imposed by "free trade" and "free market" President Bush - and done for similar electoral reasons) eventually disappeared for most of the economy but were retained and strengthened for oil and petroleum products. This was done through a White House office eventually called the FEA (Federal Energy Administration).

Part of President Carter's energy plan (remember, he thought it should be a Jamesian "moral equivalent of war") was to create a single Department of Energy to oversee all aspects of our energy problems. (Sound familiar?) The NRC and what had been the independent regulatory agency the Federal Power Commission (now renamed the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) were to be independent regulatory agencies connected to, but not controlled by, the Department of Energy. ERDA, the FEA, various hydroelectric facilities previously run by the Department of Interior and the Army Corps of Engineers, and other smaller energy-related bodies throughout the government were to be thrown together into a new 20,000 employee federal agency. ERDA - and development, testing, and control over nuclear weapons - went to the Department of Energy because 1) no one wanted to challenge the idea of civilian control over the weapons, 2) it would have been hard to separate non-nuclear weapons aspects of ERDA from the nuclear weapons aspects, and 3) putting it with all the other energy and nuclear related stuff in Energy seemed to make sense. The Defense Programs part of DOE was, I believe, from the beginning its largest division, in dollars an in people.

I was there only a short time after its creation, serving as a staff assistant to the Department's second Secretary, Charles W. Duncan, Jr., who replaced James Schlesinger. The Department was still made up mainly of people who thought of themselves as Interior or FEA or ERDA people. Controlling the Department was extremely difficult - controlling it in any detail was frankly impossible. The costs stemming from the disruption and then re-creation of the organizations' links were large and continuing. I concluded from the experience that major reorganizations should be undertaken only when the gains were substantial and clear, because the costs, though not predictable in detail, would clearly be large and continuing. The proposed Department of Homeland Security seems to me an even more ill-advised consolidation, as the Bush Administration itself argued until its 180 degree turn on the subject. I would recite the famous line about the way in which history repeats itself, but we'll be lucky if the Department of Homeland Security amounts to a Louis Napoleon (who did, after all, carve some beautiful boulevards through Paris). The Department of Energy clearly is not, and has never been, a Bonaparte.

PS. In my area, the oddest aspect of the Department of Energy is that it funds about 1/3 of the Human Genome Project. Why? Partially to keep the two senators from New Mexico happy by providing part of the continuing reason for existence for Los Alamos and Sandia, two national labs in New Mexico that provide many skilled jobs. But the opening was there because the AEC long ago started studying the biological effects of radiation, which led it into genetics as it began to study issues of radiation-induced mutations.

My comment: In a futile attempt to make sense of all this, I have spent some time browsing in the Europa volume The USA AND CANADA and the voluminous Omnigraphics' Government Phone Book, which is much more than a phone book. The Department of Energy rates eleven pages. Here are the relevant items: There is is an office of counterintelligence and a separate office of intelligence. The National Nuclear Security Administration is the umbrella for the defense programs. Policy and International Affairs is separate. Security and Emergency Operations is separate from Security Affairs The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission seems to include a large legal component. There are almost twenty judges in Administrative Law Judges, and in addition there is Administrative Litigation, Dispute Resolution Service and the General Counsel's office. The last section listed is "Strategic Direction", whatever that does. I have listed only those offices which have some relevance to our debate.

This brings us back to our discussion of the appointment of non-specialists as cabinet members. The Secretary of Energy is Spencer Abraham, a genial and bright person. Here is his background:
Corporate Connections:General Motors; Ford Motor Company; Lear Corp.; DaimlerChrysler
A one-term senator from Michigan, Spencer Abraham was the No. 1 recipient of campaign contributions from the automotive industry, receiving more than $700,000 for his failed Senate run in 2000 from contributors like General Motors, Ford and Lear Corp. One of his top contributors, DaimlerChrysler, is introducing an extra large SUV to the U.S. market this year. Daimler?s SUV, considered a "military spin-off," is a foot longer than the SUVs currently on the road and will only get about 10 miles per gallon. The debate over whether to raise or lower fuel economy standards is expected to surface again this year, especially as the country struggles with an energy crisis. Daimler is one of 139 companies that joined the Coalition for Vehicle Choice, a lobbying group that opposes setting fuel economy regulations. (The current standard for SUVs is 20.7 miles to the gallon.) The coalition gave Abraham $178,674 in 1999-2000.

I hope he understands the structure of his department. I don't. Perhaps he does net need to. He seems to be doing a good job.

Ronald Hilton - 6/26/02


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