Enough Is Enough, Now Let's Dump the Energy Department

John R. Kasich (R-Ohio) is chairman of the House Budget Committee

It's long past time for Department of Energy officials to drop their "dog ate my homework" alibis and admit that the critics were right all along: The department cannot be reinvented; it should be abolished. The DOE suffers from a disjointed and incompatible set of missions--from nuclear weapons security to civilian energy research to publicizing the benefits of home insulation. And it doesn't seem to do any of them well. A glance at the pump price at your local filling station reveals the DOE's lack of success in assuring "affordable and dependable supplies of energy for our nation," as its mission statement boasts.

The DOE was created in the 1970s to solve the energy crisis. However, its activities have done little or nothing to further that goal. A prime example of the DOE's wastefulness is the old Synfuels Corp., which spent billions of taxpayer dollars and delivered no fuel at all. Since the demise of Synfuels, the department has spent additional billions of dollars on other energy research. This activity has not been cost-effective, particularly in applied research and development, which private industry has ample incentive to undertake on its own. Indeed, some of the DOE's energy research activities are simply thinly veiled corporate welfare.

Since 1995, I have supported numerous bills in Congress to abolish the Department of Energy. The House version of the fiscal year 1996 budget would have abolished the department, transferred its nuclear weapons function to the Department of Defense and consolidated its civilian energy programs. The Clinton administration steadfastly opposed all these proposals, characterizing them as "reckless."

The General Accounting Office has been a persistent critic of the DOE. Five years ago, the agency reported: "DOE suffers from significant management problems, ranging from poor environmental management of the nuclear weapons complex to major internal inefficiencies involving poor contractor oversight, inadequate information systems and workforce weaknesses." Time has not softened the GAO's criticism. In the last year, the agency criticized "longstanding weaknesses" at the DOE, including the management structure; failures in managing environmental cleanup projects; and an inability to manage its disparate missions. Finally, the GAO noted that "for decades, DOE has failed to respond to reports by GAO, external experts and its own consultants that highlight these weaknesses."

Compounding the lack of focus is a bloated DOE bureaucracy. With almost 16,000 employees and more than 100,000 contract workers, the DOE receives a budget of nearly $17 billion. Last year's report of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board on DOE security, chaired by a respected former senator, Warren Rudman (R-N.H.), repeatedly faulted the DOE's bureaucratic "culture" for allowing administrative convenience to take precedence over proper security procedures: "The panel has found that DOE and the weapons laboratories have a deeply rooted culture of low regard for and, at times, hostility to security issues, which has continually frustrated the efforts of its internal and external critics."

Again, the warnings went unheeded. And now, in the wake of the computer hard-drive fiasco, the GAO has just completed a report identifying more than 75 incidents of foreign spies targeting U.S. nuclear scientists traveling abroad. The report faults the DOE for underestimating the intelligence risks posed by these trips. The GAO also said that the department's counterintelligence database, which is supposed to keep records of the foreign trips, had not been properly maintained.

Enough is enough. The department's legion of critics has been warning for years that, given the DOE's incompatible missions and bureaucratic bloat, security lapses were not only possible but nearly inevitable. Our national security is too precious to be placed in jeopardy by the Department of Energy. The critics in and out of Congress were right five years ago, and the situation has only gotten worse. It's time to abolish this bureaucratic monstrosity.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World