"When I assumed responsibility as Secretary of Energy four years
ago, the Department was a rudderless ship."
- DOE Secretary Admiral James Watkins
So began the 48-page 1993 "Posture Statement" distributed at the
January 8 meeting of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board. The
statement and meeting discussion summarized DOE's accomplishments,
and yet unresolved issues.
The January 8 agenda, reflecting some of the changes to DOE's
mission in the last four years, centered on math/science education,
space nuclear propulsion, economic analysis, and radioactive waste
management. There was minimal discussion about DOE's basic
research programs, even though its basic research program budget
alone exceeds that of all of NSF. The Posture Statement cites
DOE's efforts in the last four years to set basic research
priorities in high energy physics, nuclear physics, and fusion
research, citing the work of the Townes task force. Mention of the
SSC is confined to four sentences, noting that "the project is on
schedule and budget." In looking ahead to the 21st century, the
next-to-last paragraph in the statement commented, however, that:
"One of the most pressing future issues in government will be how
to manage the large Federal R&D investment in the most effective
way to achieve a better and more prosperous society. There have
been calls by many to emphasize applied research in government to
a much greater extent, presumably at the expense of basic research.
While the U.S. Government should realize maximum pay-off to society
of its investment in basic research, an abrupt shift of resources
at the expense of long-term research is not in the best interests
of the Nation. We must continue to explore the frontiers of
science. The answers to many of the problems facing the 21st
Century lie in the work being performed now in the Department's
National Laboratories" (for which "prudence" was counselled in
During the meeting there was considerable discussion of DOE's
education efforts. Watkins declared that "we are making a
difference," and while saying good things about President-elect
Clinton, cautioned that pressure should be kept up to ensure this
program does not fall "between the cracks." Also covered was
defense waste management efforts, accounting for nearly 1/4 of the
current DOE appropriation. It is conservatively estimated that the
program could cost $200 billion over the next 25-30 years. A
December draft final report on improving the public's trust of
DOE's handling of radioactive waste was discussed at length.
Watkins expressed displeasure with unnamed interests who he
characterized as misusing the intent of environmental law, saying
that they have interacted without good faith.
As the Posture Statement and Advisory Board meeting discussion
indicate, DOE has been put on a new course by Admiral Watkins, but
it is also clear that the destination(s) will be reached by his
successors over many years to come. Watkins is scheduled to meet
today with incoming Energy Nominee Hazel Rollins O'Leary.