House Committee on Science, Space and Technology Subcommittees Hold Hearing to Discuss Management at DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Feb 10, 2020

by ASME.org

The House Committee on Science, Space and Technology’s Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, and Subcommittee on Energy, recently held a hearing to discuss the spending and staffing challenges at the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). The Trump Administration has previously proposed deep cuts to EERE’s budget, which were ultimately ignored by Congress who funded EERE at $696 million for Fiscal Year (FY) 2020. Additionally, the Conference Report accompanying the FY 2020 appropriations shows concern with recent staffing reductions at EERE and calls on the agency to reach a staffing level of 675 to 700 full-time employees by the end of the fiscal year.

In FY 2019, EERE received $2.379 billion in funding, and carried over $823 million into the next fiscal year. Furthermore, since 2017 there has been a reduction of almost 90 full-time staff positions at EERE, from 710 staff in January 2017, to 553 at present. This is a 14 percent reduction in staffing levels despite a 14 percent increase in funding levels, with the FY2 020 Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill noted that “rather than using available funds to hire the Federal staff needed to responsibly manage a growing portfolio…funds are being used to pay general overhead expenses, a change in historical practice.”

EERE’s Assistant Secretary Daniel R. Simmons explained that in spite of large funding carryover, EERE is taking major steps to use up all funding, with several grant initiatives being announced right out of the gate in 2020. Initiatives such as the Energy Storage Grand Challenge, a multidisciplinary initiative aimed at expediting the development, commercialization and utilization of energy storage technologies, and $125.5 million in funding for new solar technologies, are part of EERE’s efforts to strengthen American leadership in clean energy storage and technologies.

In a spending agreement covering clean energy research at DOE released late last year, EERE was given 30 days to release a plan to Congress explaining how it would increase staffing levels to at 675 full-time employees by the end of the fiscal year. At the hearing, Subcommittee Chairman Foster asked Assistant Secretary Simmons for an update on this report, noting that when his staff last spoke to EERE, staffing levels hovered around 553. With the 30-day deadline now past, Assistant Secretary Simmons stated that staffing levels remained right around 553, with the staffing plan to be released to Congress in the coming weeks.

A panel of experts provided additional testimony on the repercussions of the reduced staffing levels and underspending of funds on America’s clean energy research and development. Arjun Krishnaswami with the Natural Resources Defense Council stated that “more carryover funds means less money from prior years is getting to clean energy innovators to do their work.” Fellow panelist Anthony Reardon of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents employees of EERE broached the topic from a slightly different perspective, explaining “Because of the highly skilled nature of work at EERE and the incredible talent of its employees, nothing has the potential to impact morale, recruitment and retention at EERE more than outside, political interference in their fact-based work. EERE employees are highly trained experts in their fields and their work should not be subject to politically based alterations or pressure.”

To view the briefing in full, click here: https://science.house.gov/hearings/management-and-spending-challenges-within-the-department-of-energys-office-of-energy-efficiency-and-renewable-energy.

To view the FY20 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill, click here: https://www.congress.gov/116/crpt/srpt102/CRPT-116srpt102.pdf.

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