House Energy and Commerce Committee Reviews Budget and Spending at the Department of Energy

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Publication date: 
11 May 2012

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.