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The United States Department of Energy (DOE) is a Cabinet-level department of the United Statesmarker government concerned with the United States' policies regarding energy and safety in handling nuclear material. Its responsibilities include the nation's nuclear weapons program, nuclear reactor production for the United States Navy, energy conservation, energy-related research, radioactive waste disposal, and domestic energy production. DOE also sponsors more basic and applied scientific research than any other US federal agency; most of this is funded through its system of United States Department of Energy National Laboratories.

The agency is administered by the United States Secretary of Energy, and its headquarters are located in southwestmarker Washington, D.C.marker, on Independence Avenue in the Forrestal Building, named for James Forrestal, as well as in Germantown, Marylandmarker.


The Department of Energy was formed on August 4, 1977 by President Jimmy Carter's signing of legislation, The Department of Energy Organization Act of 1977, but before that, the Department's history trails back to World War II.

The United States, eager to make a nuclear bomb before any other nation, started the Manhattan Project under the eye of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. After the war, the Atomic Energy Commission was created to control the future of the project.

In 1974, the AEC was abolished and gave way to Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which was tasked with regulating the nuclear power industry, and the Energy Research and Development Administration, which was tasked to manage the nuclear weapon, naval reactor, and energy development programs. Only a few years after that, the Energy Crisis called attention to unifying these two groups. The Department of Energy Organization Act of 1977, which Carter signed on August 4, 1977, created the Department of Energy, which assumed the responsibilities of the Federal Energy Administration, the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Federal Power Commission, and programs of various other agencies.

The department began operations on October 1, 1977.

Operating units

Office of Science

The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, providing more than 40 percent of total funding for this vital area of national importance.

The Office of Science directs funding for the scientific research via the following Program Offices:
  • Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR)
  • Biological and Environmental Research (BER)
  • Basic Energy Sciences (BES)
  • Fusion Energy Sciences (FES)
  • High Energy Physics (HEP)
  • Nuclear Physics (NP)
  • Workforce Development for Teachers and Scientists
Each of the Program Offices may be composed of several Divisions. The first six of these Program Offices also have corresponding Advisory Committees (ASCRAC, BERAC and so on).

Other DOE offices may directly fund scientific research related to their needs. For example, studies of materials for nuclear reactors are usually supported by the DOE Nuclear Energy Office, whereas the NP program of the Office of Science only funds the research related to nuclear transformations, and the "Materials Science" Division of the BES program supports studies of other energy-related materials such as photovoltaics.

The Office of Science will invest $777 million over the next five years (from 2009) in 46 new Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs). The EFRCs will be established at universities, national laboratories, nonprofit organizations, and private firms across the nation, drawing in part on funds provided by the Recovery Act, while also depending on future Congressional appropriations. Twenty EFRCs will focus on renewable energy.

Other Units and Offices

DOE headquarters

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) is an independent agency in the United States Department of Energy. It is the source for official energy statistics from the U.S. Government. EIA collects, analyzes, and publishes data as directed by law to ensure efficient markets, inform policy-making, and support public understanding of energy.

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is part of the United States Department of Energy. It works to improve national security through the military application of nuclear energy. The NNSA also maintains and improves the safety, reliability, and performance of the United States nuclear weapons stockpile, including the ability to design, produce, and test, in order to meet national security requirements.

The Department's Office of Secure Transportation (OST) provides safe and secure transportation of nuclear weapons and components and special nuclear materials, and conducts other missions supporting the national security of the United States of America. Since 1974, OST has been assigned responsibility to develop, operate, and manage a system for the safe and secure transportation of all government-owned, DOE or NNSA controlled special nuclear materials in "strategic" or "significant" quantities. Shipments are transported in specially designed equipment and are escorted by armed Federal Agents (Nuclear Material Couriers).

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is an independent regulatory agency within the U.S. Department of Energy. The Department also manages the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Other offices include:
  • Office of Scientific and Technical Information (OSTI)
  • Office of Environmental Management (EM)
  • Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE)
  • Office of River Protection
  • Office of Nuclear Energy
  • Office of Transportation Technology


Responsibility for nuclear weapons

In the United States, all nuclear weapons deployed by the United States Department of Defensemarker (DoD) are actually on loan to DoD from the DOE/NNSA, which has federal responsibility for the design, testing and production of all nuclear weapons. NNSA in turn uses contractors to carry out its responsibilities at the following government owned sites:


During the Wen Ho Lee scandal, involving stolen nuclear secrets from Los Alamos National Laboratorymarker, hearings were called in Congress regarding the Department of Energy's handling of the matter. Republican senators thought that an independent agency should be in charge of nuclear weapons and security issues, not the Department of Energy. Federal officials, including then-Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, had publicly named Lee as a suspect in the theft of classified nuclear documents before he was charged with a crime; he was later cleared of the spying charges and won a settlement with the federal government.

Related legislation

Hierarchy of the U.S.
Department of Energy


President Barack Obama unveiled on May 7 a $26.4 billion budget request for DOE for fiscal year (FY) 2010, including $2.3 billion for the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). The budget aims to substantially expand the use of renewable energy sources while improving energy transmission infrastructure. It also makes significant investments in hybrid and plug-in hybrids, in smart grid technologies, and in scientific research and innovation.

As part of the recent $789 billion economic stimulus package, Congress has provided Energy with $38.3 billion for the next two years, adding about 75 percent to Energy's annual budgets. Most of the stimulus spending will be in the form of grants and contracts. Yet, according to Robert Alvarez, "Even with additional stimulus money, spending for bombs and cleanup will still exceed those for actual energy-related functions. Spending for the weapons complex is currently comparable to that during the height of the nuclear arms race in the 1950s. The big difference now — half of that money is spent dealing with the Cold War's environmental legacy. "

Energy Savings Performance Contract

Energy Savings Performance Contracts (ESPCs) are contracts under which a contractor designs, constructs, and obtains the necessary financing for an energy savings project, and the federal agency makes payments over time to the contractor from the savings in the agency's utility bills. The contractor guarantees the energy improvements will generate savings, and after the contract ends, all continuing cost savings accrue to the federal agency.

Loan Guarantee Program

Title XVII of Energy Policy Act of 2005 authorizes the U.S. Department of Energy to issue loan guarantees to eligible projects that "avoid, reduce, or sequester air pollutants or anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases" and "employ new or significantly improved technologies as compared to technologies in service in the United States at the time the guarantee is issued".

In loan guarantees, a conditional commitment requires to meet an equity commitment, as well as other conditions, before the loan guarantee is closed.

Energy Innovation Hubs

Energy Innovation Hubs are multi-disciplinary meant to advance highly promising areas of energy science and technology from their early stages of research to the point that the risk level will be low enough for industry to commercialize the technologies.

The DOE budget includes $280 million to fund eight Energy Innovation Hubs, each of which is focused on a particular energy challenge. Two of the eight hubs are included in the EERE budget and will focus on integrating smart materials, designs, and systems into buildings to better conserve energy and on designing and discovering new concepts and materials needed to convert solar energy into electricity. Another two hubs, included in the DOE Office of Science budget, will tackle the challenges of devising advanced methods of energy storage and creating fuels directly from sunlight without the use of plants or microbes. Yet another hub will develop "smart" materials that will allow the electrical grid to adapt and respond to changing conditions.

Failing its own energy audit

In 2009, the Wall St. Journal reported that the Department of Energy had failed its own energy audit. The journal quoted the audit as saying, "While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) noted that shutting down a computer monitor when not in use is one of the easiest things a user can do to save energy, we found that … each of the 20 computers reviewed at the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) were set to never turn off the monitor after a period of non-use. At the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), 8 of 18 computers were set to turn the monitor off after 48 hours, 144 times the recommended standard." The results of the audit can be read here.

Past Secretaries of Energy

Term Name President served
August 6, 1977 - August 23, 1979 James R. Schlesinger Jimmy Carter
August 24, 1979 - January 20, 1981 Charles W. Duncan, Jr. Jimmy Carter
January 23, 1981 - November 5, 1982 James B. Edwards Ronald Reagan
November 5, 1982 - February 7, 1985 Donald Paul Hodel Ronald Reagan
February 7, 1985 - January 20, 1989 John S. Herrington Ronald Reagan
March 1, 1989 - January 20, 1993 James D. Watkins George H.W. Bush
January 22, 1993 - January 20, 1997 Hazel R. O'Leary Bill Clinton
March 12, 1997 - June 30, 1998 Federico F. Peña Bill Clinton
August 18, 1998 - January 20, 2001 Bill Richardson Bill Clinton
January 20, 2001 - January 31, 2005 Spencer Abraham George W. Bush
February 1, 2005 - January 20, 2009 - Samuel W. Bodman George W. Bush

See also


  1. Is the Energy Department Ready to Reboot the Country?, Institute for Policy Studies, March 27, 2009
  2. Energy Department Fails its Own Energy Audit, Wall St. Journal, June 8, 2009

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