When Barack Obama pens the stimulus bill into action, the Department of Energy’s budget swells from $25 billion to $40 billion.
Lawmakers, pundits, reporters, former DOE employees, the Government Accountability Office, just about everyone, is sceptical that the department will be able to handle its oversized budget. The question that the DOE chief Steven Chu hears everyday: “How will you get the money out quickly?”
He promises to cut down the bureaucracy in order to get money out the door faster. His promise is met with a “we’ll-believe-it-when-we-see-it” attitude.
The Journal breaks down why people don’t trust the DOE:
- In January the Government Accountability Office said the agency was at “high risk” for waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement.
- It cost Sage Electrochromics $1 million to get $65 million from the DOE. Sage manufactures energy saving windows.They’ve been waiting for funding since October 2007 and have produce 6 thick binders worth of documents to show why they need money.
- Beacon Power, a Massachusetts company, waited 25 months for a $50 million loan.
- Andy Karsner, assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy under President George W. Bush, told a Senate panel that a combination of “bureaucratic dysfunction,” “organizational intransigence,” and “institutional barriers” had contributed to the agency’s “painfully slow” progress on loan-guarantee applications in recent years.
- $5 billion, will flow in the form of grants to states for programs to supply insulation for homes in low-income neighborhoods. There, too, states are scrambling to prepare to handle unprecedented sums of money. Massachusetts, which is farther along than most states in weatherizing homes, expects an injection of upwards of $161 million into a program that last year spent $14 million.
- Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, a New Jersey Republican worries that giving the agency $40 billion and an implicit mandate to use all the money quickly is a prescription for waste and fraud.
The pressure is on Steven Chu. He not only has to transform the culture of the slow moving agency, but he also has to retain intelligence in the decisions he makes about where the money goes. Handing out cash isn’t his only responsibility, either. He’s also in charge of the array of projects the DOE typically handles, like figuring out what to do with nuclear waste.
Chu comes across in interviews as an intelligent man. Of all of Obama’s appointees, he seems the most likely to bring some hope n’ change to Washington. He’s a nobel prize winner and recognises the importance of scientific breakthroughs.
However, Washington is the kind of town that’s more likely to change Chu, than the other way around. For the sake of $40 billion in spending, let’s hope it doesn’t happen.