DOE's stimulus dollars are not stimulating much

Bob Tippee

A Feb. 4 congressional question to US Energy Sec. Steven Chu shows why state-sponsored energy works poorly as economic stimulus.

Chu testified to the Senate Committee and Energy and Natural Resources about the administration’s proposal to raise Department of Energy spending to $28.4 billion in fiscal 2011 from $26.4 billion enacted for fiscal 2010. Of the proposed total, $11.2 billion would be for the National Nuclear Security Administration, up $1.3 billion from 2010.

Why, wondered Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alas.), should Congress approve a budget hike for DOE when the agency has disbursed only a small part of the stimulus money channeled to it last year?

The America Recovery and Reinvestment Act allocated DOE $36.7 billion in seven broad categories: energy efficiency and renewable energy, clean-up of Cold War nuclear sites, loan guarantees for renewable energy, “smartgrid” and efficient electrical transmission, carbon capture and storage, scientific research, and the energy part of an advanced research program.

So far, DOE has spent $2.1 billion.

“We’re not dilly-dallying,” Chu said, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. “Many of these organizations [state and local governments] aren’t used to dealing with that magnitude of money.”

As an explanation, this makes perfect sense. What doesn’t make sense is the thrust of so much public money into a system unable to handle it efficiently.

The dilemma is fatal: The government wants to inject money into the economy promptly to spur activity and, it believes, employment. Because the dispensing agency works carefully—Americans must hope—to prevent looting of the program, however, the stimulus is meager and slow.

Part of the problem is staffing. So DOE wants more money for more people to push more papers. Meanwhile, Congress is considering a jobs bill with more energy spending.

Especially relative to the bureaucratic and subsidy costs, these exertions will yield precious little usable energy. Because of the economic drain, employment gains will be illusory.

Congress has a more effective use for the $34.6 billion of 2009 stimulus money DOE hasn’t spent. It should give it back to taxpayers, who earned it in the first place.

(Online Feb. 5, 2010; author’s e-mail:

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