The subject of the April 18 hearing in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation was “Budget and Spending Concerns at DOE [Department of Energy].” This hearing highlighted the tensions between Republicans and Democrats on issues surrounding the DOE’s budget.
“At a time when the president is requesting an increase in funding for DOE’s renewable energy programs, can anyone at DOE certify that there is no redundancy among these 92 initiatives,” questioned Subcommittee Chairman Cliff Stearns (R-FL).
“No one, Republican or Democrat, should be in favor of wasteful federal spending. If we can identify ways that the Department can save money without jeopardizing its missions, we all should support those changes. At the same time, we also need to recognize that the Department of Energy has a vital mission in developing new clean energy technologies. Congress should be doing more to support these initiatives. Our economic future depends on building the clean energy industries of tomorrow,” countered Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA).
Frank Rusco, Director of Natural Resources and Environment at the Government Accountability Office (GAO), presented GAO’s review of DOE programs, stating that the GAO found “funding increases have expanded or created DOE programs with varying results.”
Regarding the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), the GAO “found that ARPA-E uses several selection criteria in awarding funds, but its requirements for information on private funding could be improved.” He added that the Loan Guarantee Program “does not have sufficient data to facilitate oversight, and its actual process for reviewing applications has differed from the established process.” As for the Weatherization Assistance Program, which helps low-income families reduce their energy bills, the “GAO made recommendations to DOE to clarify the program’s production targets (e.g., the number of homes weatherized) and guidance.” At the time of the review of another program, the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program, “DOE could not be assured that projects would be delivered as agreed.”
Gregory Friedman, DOE Inspector General provided highlights of the most significant management challenges at the Department of Energy as presented in a report to the DOE:
“Given the concern with Federal government expenditures and the mounting U.S. debt, we have concluded that ‘Operational Efficiency and Cost Savings’ is the preeminent challenge for 2012. To help achieve this goal, we suggested five initiatives to the Department: extending the reach of the Quadrennial Technology Review to guide research, development and technology efforts and ensure they are consistent with current policy direction, managed effectively, and funded on a priority basis; considering the elimination of separate National Nuclear Security Administration overhead operations that duplicate existing Departmental functions; establishing a commission to consolidate support functions and identify opportunities for realignment of the 16 Federally Funded Research and Development Centers; reprioritizing the environmental remediation efforts to adopt a triage approach and fund only those projects with a near-term impact on health, safety, and environment; reevaluating the current structure of physical security to identify opportunities for consolidating the 25 separate protective force contract instruments.”
Christopher Johns, Director of the Office of the Budget at DOE presented an overview of the DOE budget process which included a discussion of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act oversight and the FY 2013 DOE budget request. He emphasized that “oversight of the Recovery Act has been a top priority for the Department.”
“The annual process involves a structured build and review of each program’s submission that includes an in-depth analysis of program priorities on a line-by-line basis, proposed trade-offs, including a review of the plans for use of unobligated and uncosted financial balances, and an analysis of crosscutting subjects. During this process, the formulation material is analyzed to ensure proper coordination and to eliminate duplication of effort,” explained Johns.
Discussions following the witness statements were heated. Stearns questioned whether the Department of Energy had reduced the cost of travel and of the motor vehicle fleet to which the panelists replied it had. Stearns expressed his disappointment regarding the DOE’s not submitting information to Congress regarding these cuts. The Department did submit this information to the Office of Management and Budget in accordance with the Executive Order.
Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) pointed out that the Department of Energy budget request for FY 2013 was a decrease in the amount of its core budget from the Bush era. She inquired as to whether the Department had reduced costs associated with contractors, which according to the panelists it has.
Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) was concerned that Johns did not wish to speculate as to the number of vehicles in the DOE’s vehicle fleet. Johns insisted that he would find out that number and get that information to the Committee.
Waxman inquired as to the effects of cutting costs in the DOE budget. He specifically questioned whether those reductions would undermine developments in electric grid technology.
Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) pointed out that China still produces power with coal while Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL) was pleased with how many homes had benefited from the weatherization program.
There was little mention of the Office of Science in the hearing testimony and question period.