The Energy Sciences Coalition, a broad based coalition of organizations representing scientists, engineers, and mathematicians in universities, industry and national laboratories, sent a November 25 letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) requesting that the Senate move promptly to confirm Franklin M. (Lynn) Orr, Jr. and Marc Kastner to serve as Under Secretary for Science and Energy and Director of the Office of Science at the Department of Energy (DOE). It has been approximately a year since President Obama made these two nominations.
President Obama nominated Orr on November 18, 2013 and a hearing was held in the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on December 12, 2013 to consider the nomination of Orr for the position of Under Secretary for Science. The position was originally established to oversee the Department’s research and development programs but was expanded under Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz to oversee both basic sciences research and applied energy programs. The Under Secretary for Science would oversee programs including nuclear and fossil energy and the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
There was consensus at the confirmation hearing that Orr and the other nominees under consideration at the hearing were “highly qualified.” Orr, who currently directs the Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford University, was picked to “lead a much more integrated approach where basic science, applied research, technology demonstration and deployment programs work together to push clean energy toward a coordinated strategy,” according to Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). She praised his nomination noting that “Dr. Orr’s work overseeing the Precourt Institute grant program prepares him to oversee DOE’s programs including ARPA-E in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. They award billions of dollars to promising energy technology research each year.” Following his testimony, Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) engaged Orr in a discussion about methane hydrates and Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) discussed the Energy Information Agency’s approach to energy production.
President Obama nominated Kastner on January 6, 2014 and a hearing was held in the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on December 17, 2013 to consider his nomination. The Director of the Office of Science is responsible for overseeing programs in advanced computing, basic energy sciences, biological and environmental science, fusion energy, high energy, nuclear physics and workforce development programs for teachers and scientists. The Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs also fall under the DOE Office of Science.
Senators from both sides of the aisle at Kastner’s confirmation hearing praised his work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Ranking Member Murkowski was pleased with Moniz’s assembling a “top notch team” at the DOE. During his testimony, Kastner described his experiences in chemistry and physics as a student and his work at Argonne National Laboratory prior to his becoming Dean of the School of Science at MIT. Following Kastner’s statement Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) wanted to discuss the closing of an atomic energy museum at Oak Ridge National Lab. Alexander also expressed his support for the Advanced Research Project Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) and asked Kastner to describe how ARPA-E research is used in coal plants to create commercially viable products.
Patricia Dehmer, the Deputy Director for Science Programs is currently serving as Acting Director of the Office of Science and Michael Knotek is currently the Deputy Under Secretary for Science and Energy serving as Acting Under Secretary. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) filed cloture for Orr’s nomination on Monday which is a procedural move to limit the time for debate and avoid filibuster. Reid indicated that the Senate needs to address the many unconfirmed DOE nominations in the near future.
The American Institute of Physics and two of its Member Societies, the American Astronomical Society and the American Physical Society signed the following letter sent by the Energy Sciences Coalition:
“Dear Majority Leader Reid:
“We write to respectfully request that you move promptly to confirm Franklin M. (Lynn) Orr, Jr. and Marc Kastner who were nominated on November 14, 2013 to serve as Under Secretary for Science and Energy and Director of the Office of Science at the Department of Energy. Dr. Orr and Dr. Kastner had their confirmation hearings for these two posts over one year ago, and are two of about a dozen nominees for positions at the Department of Energy who still await confirmation. It is now time that the Senate move to confirm these two individuals to positions that are vital to the direction and oversight of the important scientific and energy research supported by the U.S. Department of Energy.
“Dr. Orr is one of our nation’s leaders in energy and science, with a distinguished record in innovation, research, education and administration. At Stanford University, he served as the Director of the Precourt Energy Institute and the Dean of Earth Sciences after chairing the Department of Petroleum Engineering. Dr. Kastner is a leading U.S. physicist and most recently served at the Dean of the School of Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) after heading its Department of Physics.
“If confirmed, both of these individuals will help to steward an important component of our federal research enterprise – the Department of Energy and its national laboratories. We believe that the scientific and energy research, unique world-class user facilities, and teams of skilled scientists and engineers funded by the Department of Energy at universities and national laboratories are critical to long-term economic growth and job creation. Economic experts have asserted as much, crediting past investments in science and technology for up to half the growth in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the 50 years following the end of World War II. The confirmation of Dr. Orr and Dr. Kastner will provide leadership in our nation’s efforts to advance scientific discovery and to develop breakthrough technologies and other innovations that will enhance America’s energy security and economic competitiveness.
“For these reasons, we urge the Senate to move forward on these nominations before the end of the 113th Congress.”