Energy Government Rantt 101 Science

What Does The Secretary Of Energy Do?

Learn more about the role of the Secretary of Energy, Dan Brouillette, and how the Department of Energy works.

Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette (United States Department of Energy/Public domain)

What is the role of the Secretary of Energy?

The United States Secretary of Energy serves in the US President’s cabinet, presiding over the US Department of Energy (DOE) and functions as the principal program evaluations executive, signing off on administrative initiatives and memoranda to continue, expand, restrict, or discontinue Energy Department programs, subject to final presidential authorization. In addition, the secretary also signs off on departmental budget initiatives subject to presidential approval before sending such initiatives to Congress for approval and subsequent appropriations. The Secretary of Energy occupies the fifteenth place in the Presidential Line of Succession.

How is the Department of Energy structured?

Reporting directly to the secretary, Secretary of Energy Advisory Board exists in a purely advisory capacity for the secretary and manages the DOE’s several advisory councils and panels, whose members serve by presidential appointment.

The Office of the Secretary of Energy directly supervises three administratively distinct offices beneath it:

  • The Office of the Under Secretary of Energy oversees the nation’s power grids, which involves regulating the marketing of electrical power and maintaining the reliability and security of the grid systems. The Undersecretary of Energy acts as the Energy Department’s principal policy advisor for electrical energy use and associated existing technologies as well as for emerging innovations. These include civilian nuclear power, fossil fuel power, and renewable power sources like solar and wind power. The Office’s Fossil Energy organization issues production regulation recommendations and export permits for coal, oil, and natural gas. The Office also maintains the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve, the Northeast Gasoline Supply Reserve, and the Northeast Home Heating Oil Reserve, stockpiled to administer in the event of emergency supply shortages.
  • The Office of the Under Secretary for Nuclear Security and National Nuclear Security Administration supervises the security and maintenance of the US nuclear weapons arsenal and US Naval reactors used to power its warships. The Office’s mission also includes nuclear counterterror and nuclear non-proliferation duties.
  • The Office of the Under Secretary for Science serves as the administrative head of the US National Laboratories, operating the world’s largest network of state-of-the-art scientific research facilities. These laboratories, such as the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, and the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory test and develop cutting-edge discoveries in particle physics and quantum information research, laser technology, artificial intelligence, medical innovation and genomics, supercomputing, metallurgy and experimental materials science, and advanced renewable energy sources including fusion research.

In addition to the three primary compartments of the Energy Department, the Secretary of Energy also oversees departmental offices that routinely interact with those three. These include standard cabinet offices like the DOE General Counsel Office, Inspector General, the Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs, Office of Public Affairs, Office of Management, Office of the Chief Financial Officer, and the Office of International Affairs. Other more unique intradepartmental offices in the DOE include the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, charged with establishing national energy regulations, the Advanced Research Projects – Energy (ARPA-E), and the Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, responsible for all nuclear intelligence and counterintelligence prerogatives of the entire DOE and reports to the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) as a member of the US Intelligence Community.

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History of the Secretary of Energy

Although created during the Carter Administration in 1977, the position of Secretary of Energy and the respective Department of Energy traces its origins back to World War II with the inception of the Army Corp of Engineers’ wartime project, the Manhattan Engineering District organization in 1942 later referred to as the Manhattan Project. Government scientists then successfully raced to unlock the secrets of splitting the atom and developed the world’s first nuclear bomb for the war effort in just three years, employing over 130,000 personnel at its peak. In the post-war years, all relevant researchers and administrators were folded into the newly created Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), effective in 1947.

Regional National Laboratories began to be constructed during the late 1940s and early 1950s for general research like metallurgical and chemical research, biomedical engineering, and physics research specifically for peacetime nuclear reactors and naval nuclear propulsion systems under the commission’s banner. Following US and select allied support for Israel during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, also known as the Ramadan War or Yom Kippur War, the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) established an oil embargo on Israel’s supporters, cutting exports by 5%/month while the broader Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) that included countries like Venezuela incrementally raising oil prices each successive month, turning oil exports into a weapon against the Western allies.

These events led President Nixon to create a national initiative tasked with developing and ensuring US energy independence, invoking by name the urgency and ambitious successes of the Manhattan Project. Continuing Nixon’s efforts to centralize all federal energy programs, President Ford signed into law the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974, dissolving the AEC, which transferred most of its employees to the new Energy Research and Development Administration, while the remainder went to the new Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Ford then created the Federal Energy Commission to regulate all federal energy policies. The Carter Administration completed this centralization policy by signing the Department of Energy Organization Act of 1977, creating the Department of Energy and folding all National Laboratories, nuclear intelligence/counterintelligence, power grid commissions, energy policy and regulatory commissions into a single cabinet-level department, with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission replacing the Federal Energy Commission.

List of previous Secretaries of Energy

  • James Schlesinger (1977-1979)
  • Charles Duncan (1979-1981)
  • James B. Edwards (1981-1982)
  • Donald P. Hodel (1982-1985)
  • John S. Herrington (1985-1989)
  • Admiral James Watkins (1989-1993)
  • Hazel R. O’Leary (1993-1997)
  • Federico Peña (1997-1998)
  • Bill Richardson (1998-2001)
  • Spencer Abraham (2001- 2005)
  • Samuel W. Bodman (2005-2009)
  • Steven Chu (2009-2013)
  • Ernest Moniz (2013-2017)
  • Rick Perry (2017-2019)

Who is the current Secretary of Energy?

Dan Brouillette currently serves as the fifteenth United States Secretary of Energy, after previously serving as Deputy Secretary of Energy from 2017-2019. He furthermore currently serves in a private capacity as Senior Vice President of the United Services Automobile Association, the premier auto insurance and financing firm for the US Armed Services. His official DOE biography also describes the Secretary as a former Vice President of Ford Motor Company, where he was in charge of the automaker’s domestic policy on its North American Operating Committee. He previously spent time on the Louisiana State Mineral and Energy Board and worked as chief of staff for former Energy and Commerce Chairman Billy Tauzin. A veteran of the US Army, Mr. Brouillette served as Assistant Secretary of Energy for Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs in the years 2001-2003 under President George W. Bush. Raised in Paincourtville, Louisiana, the Secretary currently lives as a resident of San Antonio, Texas.

The Rantt Rundown

The United States Secretary of Energy presides over a department born of two national security crises and their respective remedies: World War II and its harnessing of nuclear weapons, and the 1973 Oil Crisis which provoked the policies that led to the current state of almost absolute energy independence from foreign powers and certainly from the Middle East, as most imports come from the Western Hemisphere. The US leads all other countries in natural gas production and exports and became a net exporter of oil for the first time in 75 years in 2018. A great deal of research and development remains in order to live up to the DOE’s charter that includes developing the next generation of energy sources, advancing beyond the twentieth-century technologies and into the twenty-first and beyond in order to combat global warming as a result of fossil fuel emissions that have accelerated exponentially since the dawn of the industrial revolution.

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