Department of Energy, a Waste of Energy

DoE-LogoThis week I am continuing my look at the departments of the federal government. This week I’ll be focusing on the Department of Energy. I’ll look at what it does, what it was designed to do and whether it is succeeding in its mission.

The mission statement of the Department of Energy is the following:

The mission of the Energy Department is to ensure America’s security and prosperity by addressing its energy, environmental and nuclear challenges through transformative science and technology solutions.

The Department of Energy was first formed in 1977, but proudly states that its humble beginning was rooted in the Manhattan Project during the development of the atomic bomb. They have an annual budget of about 30 billion dollars with about 14,000 employees. It was started during the Carter administration in response to the oil crisis of the early 70’s. As all great politicians say, “never let a good crisis go to waste.”

I guess, looking at the mission statement, I would have two basic questions, first, is it the federal government’s job to ensure America’s security and prosperity and second, who decides and by what standards are science and technology standards considered transformative? If you say yes, it is the federal government’s job to ensure security, don’t we have a Department of Defense for that? If they mean security of the energy production within the country, shouldn’t that be the job of the place actually making the energy and the local community using that energy? Wouldn’t it make sense that the people dependent on the energy would want to make sure that it is always there? At any rate, it should not be the job of the Department of Energy to ensure our security. How about prosperity? Well, since the Department of Energy produces no energy, and the federal government’s only production is debt, I sincerely doubt they should be in charge of our prosperity. When the government ensures one person’s prosperity it is always at the expense of another person. So no, the Department of Energy should not be in charge of either.

The Department of Energy gives out hundreds of millions of dollars in guaranteed loans to people with ideas that they would consider “transformative science and technology solutions”. These “solutions” are most green energy companies that could not secure loans in the private market because the products were not innovative or profitable. Over the years we have spent about 20 billion dollars on green companies that have gotten loans and promptly went bankrupt. This goes along with the theory that when the money you risk is not yours, you don’t care as much as you would if it was. When you are not forced by the market to innovate, you won’t. When you are not forced to come up with a creative way to be profitable by the private market, you won’t. In other words, government money stifles innovation and creativity. A simple explanation I came up with was called the toilet paper theory. Not specifically written for this subject, but it applies none the less. When the government gets to pick what is “transformative” and what the “solutions” are, they are actually picking the winners and losers and that is not what they are there for.

The largest chunk of the Department of Energy’s budget goes to nuclear weaponry, its production and development. Why? Why would this not fall under the category of defense? About 18 billion dollars goes towards developing nuclear weapons and cleaning up the remnants of the cold war nuclear sites. 18 billion dollars is a rounding error for the Department of Defense. I’m sure they could find that much in between the couch cushions at the pentagon. Why aren’t they doing that job? The governmental redundancy is just astounding to me. Only in government would it be a good idea to have a bunch of different agencies doing the same thing poorly, being punished with larger and larger budgets each year with money borrowed from our grandchildren’s grandchildren.

Part of what the Department of Energy does is fund scientific research. Perusing the Department of Energy website, I saw tons of cool science stuff. I love science and technology. I enjoyed reading about new discoveries in dark energy, the Higgs Boson and the Mars rover. What I can’t understand is why all of these things couldn’t be done privately. The profit potential in nano-technology for instance is huge. There is no reason that multi-billion dollar companies with an interest in the outcome could not sponsor these efforts with a profit motive for the long run. After doing a little research, I found that a large majority of funding for science and technology actually is coming from the private sector. The truth is that these billion dollar companies, venture capitalists and even crowd-funding sites fund the research for science innovation. If the government is funding something that is worthwhile in the long run, it would be picked up by private funding if public funds were lost.

It’s not looking good for the Department of Energy. There is nothing to suggest that anything would change in anyone’s life, except for the 14,000 employees, if this department just went away. They do not ensure our security and prosperity, they do not create any energy, nor provide vital funding for innovative research that could not be handled elsewhere. Their main job, nuclear weaponry, could be handled by someone else. The Department of Energy is a prime example of why we need a smaller government. Please go away.