The Department of Energy: The Agency Rick Perry Forgot

The Department of Energy: The Agency Rick Perry Forgot


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Janet Ybarra
Former Washington Journalist
Contributor on The Bipartisan Press

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Republican Rick Perry became a late-night punchline when while running for president, he proposed eliminating three federal agencies but when asked to name them, he could remember only two.

So it was perhaps a little ironic, or a cosmic joke, when Donald Trump appointed Perry to lead the very Cabinet department he previously choked on recalling: the Department of Energy (DOE).

Perry now reportedly is looking to step down in coming weeks.

When first nominated to the post, Perry reportedly misunderstood DOE’s mission to be about promoting the US petroleum industry.

The truth is that Perry has not been alone in his ignorance: DOE historically has been a very misunderstood federal agency.

DOE’s mission is remarkably broad, and I’ve had the chance to see it firsthand. I’ve spent a number of years covering the department as a news reporter before actually going to work there for a time during the early years of the Obama administration.

But DOE manages everything from the nation’s nuclear weapons arsenal, to grants across the country to help low-income Americans install energy-saving insulation in their homes–and many more things besides.

But the best of the department has to be its network of cutting-edge national laboratories. Some of these labs are fairly famous–think Los Alamos–while several others are much more obscure.

I had the privilege of visiting a number of these labs over the course of my career, and they all are staffed with the best minds taking on big projects in science and technology.

Some of these projects are obvious in their advancement of energy or technology, while others are simply about understanding who we are and our place in the Cosmos.

The national labs have apparently even made a convert out of Rick Perry. Last year, while visiting the SLAC Accelerator in Menlo Park, Calif., he said that working among the talented federal scientists, he said, “is invaluable. You’re making a difference.”

Perhaps there is no higher praise than that.

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