Energy Department

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Energy Department

The Department of Energy (DOE) is an executive agency of the federal government. It was created in response to the early 1970s energy shortages, long lines at the gas pumps, and rising prices to name a few. Its many duties include the administration of federal energy policies and functions, research and development (R&D) of energy technology, marketing of federally produced power, promotion of energy conservation, oversight of the Nuclear Weapons program, regulation of energy production and consumption, and collection and analysis of energy-related data. The department's web site can be found at

The DOE was created in 1977 under the Department of Energy Organization Act (42 U.S.C.A. § 7131). The act brought together all major federal energy responsibilities into one cabinet-level department. The DOE divides itself into three major programs, or divisions: energy programs, weapons/waste clean-up programs, and science and technology programs. It also oversees five power administrations and includes the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Many of the department's research, development, testing, and production activities are performed by contractors who operate government-owned facilities.

Office of the Secretary

The secretary of energy provides overall leadership for the department, decides major energy policy, advises the president on energy issues, and acts as the principal spokesperson for the department. The deputy secretary oversees the department's energy programs, and the undersecretary has responsibility for the weapons/waste clean up programs and science and technology programs.

Energy Programs

The DOE energy programs consist of five offices: Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Fossil Energy, Nuclear Energy, the Energy Information Administration, and Civilian Radioactive Waste Management.

The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy directs efforts to increase the production and utilization of renewable power sources such as solar, biomass, wind, geothermal, and alcohol fuels. It also works to improve the energy efficiency of transportation, buildings, and industrial systems. The office supports research and development related to these areas. In addition, it provides financial assistance for state energy planning, weatherizes housing for poor and disadvantaged people, and implements energy conservation measures by government and public institutions.

The Office of Fossil Energy supports research and development programs related to the fossil fuels: coal, petroleum, and gas. It conducts and funds long-term, high-risk research to help the private sector commercialize advanced concepts in fossil fuel energy. The assistant secretary for fossil energy also manages the Clean Coal Technology Program, Strategic Petroleum Reserve, Naval Petroleum and Oil Shale Reserves, and Liquefied Gaseous Fuels Spill Test Facility.

The Office of Nuclear Energy oversees the department's research and development in nuclear fission technology, including nuclear reactor development. This office manages the Remedial Action Program, which performs decontamination work at DOE surplus sites. The office also coordinates efforts to prevent the proliferation of nuclear technology and evaluates new and potential advances in nuclear technology.

The Energy Information Administration collects, processes, and publishes data related to energy production, demand, consumption, distribution, technology, and resource reserves. In addition, the administration helps governmental and nongovernmental users to understand energy trends.

The Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management manages the Nuclear Waste Fund and other federal programs that are related to the storage and disposal of high-level radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel.

The Department of Energy's role in managing nuclear weapons and storage sites received increased scrutiny after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Concern was raised that the DOE's sites were not properly secured in light of the attacks. In response, the DOE assured critics that the sites were safe, and requested increased funding for them.

Another domestic nuclear issue that the DOE has been involved with is storage of nuclear waste. In a controversial decision, the DOE recommended the use of Yucca Mountain in Nevada as the nation's first long-term geologic repository for high-level radioactive waste. Despite the strong disagreement of most Nevada residents, the president and Congress approved the decision in 2002.

Weapons/Waste Clean Up Programs

The weapons/waste clean up programs include the Offices of Defense Programs, Environmental Restoration and Waste Management, and Intelligence and National Security.

The Office of Defense Programs directs U.S. nuclear weapons research, development, testing, production, and surveillance; manages defense nuclear waste and by-products; and coordinates research in inertial confinement nuclear fusion.

The Office of Environmental Restoration and Waste Management assesses and cleans up the waste sites of inactive nuclear weapons and of other weapons and related materiel.

The Office of Intelligence and National Security meets the intelligence information requirements of the DOE and makes departmental expertise and information available to the intelligence community. The office secures classified information and manages the department's policies relating to arms control, nuclear nonproliferation, and export controls.

The Department of Energy has been involved with securing Russian nuclear materials and with helping Russian nuclear scientists to find employment. The Department works with its Russian counterparts to improve measures on nuclear materials physical protection, control and accounting, as well as preventing illegal trafficking and handling of nuclear and radioactive materials. The DOE and Russian officials recently agreed to upgrade their cooperation in connection with these issues.

Science and Technology Programs

The science and technology programs include the Offices of Energy Research, Science Education and Technical Information, and Laboratory Management.

The Office of Energy Research advises the secretary on DOE energy research and development programs. It manages the basic energy sciences, high-energy physics, and fusion-energy research programs. It also administers grants to university and industry researchers.

The Office of Science Education and Technical Information develops and implements DOE policy for science education programs at secondary and post-secondary schools; manages the collection and dissemination of department research and development activities; and represents the United States in international organizations such as the international atomic energy agency and the International Energy Agency.

The Office of Laboratory Management administers DOE laboratories and formulates laboratory research programs and policies.

The Office of Advanced Automotive Technologies (OAAT), a part of the Office of Transportation Technologies (OTT), was established in 1996 to consolidate all of the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) light vehicle technology research and development (R&D) activities. To meet legislated vehicle energy goals and emissions regulations, OAAT's research focuses on eliminating the most serious technological barriers to the development of energy-efficient automotive technologies. The office was given responsibility for the new Freedom CAR initiative, an attempt to come up with a viable hydrogen-powered car.

Power Administrations

The DOE oversees five power administrations that market and transmit electric power produced at federal hydroelectric projects: the Bonneville Power Administration, in the Pacific Northwest; the Alaska Power Administration; the Southeastern Power Administration, serving West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Kentucky; the Southwestern Power Administration, in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas; and the Western Area Power Administration, serving 15 midwestern and western states.

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

The DOE also includes the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), an independent commission made up of five members. The commission took over many of the functions of the former Federal Power Commission, including the setting of rates and charges for the sale of natural gas and electricity. The commission also establishes rates for the transportation of oil by pipeline.

FERC's role in managing the nations power supply has proved somewhat controversial. Critics accused it of not doing enough to prevent California's power crisis in 2001, though FERC eventually did impose price controls to mitigate the crisis. In 2003, FERC determined that energy suppliers manipulated the market and that California was owed $3.3 billion in refunds.

Transferals to Homeland Security

After the passage of the Homeland Security bill (6 USCA § 101 et seq.), several DOE functions were transferred to the Homeland Security Department. These functions included activities relating to chemical/biological R&D, nuclear weapons Smuggling, national security, energy security and assurance, and nuclear threat assessment capability. The DOE also cooperates with the new Homeland Security Department in a variety of areas where the DOE still has primary responsibility for security, including the security of nuclear and laboratory sites and other power sources.

Further readings

Bazeley, Michael. 2003. "FERC Finds Suppliers Fixed Energy Market." San Jose Mercury News (March 27).

U.S. Government Manual Website. Available online at <> (accessed November 10, 2003).

U.S. State Department. National Security Highlighted in Energy Department's 2004 Budget. Feb. 5, 2003. Available online at <>

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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