The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, tasked with today's confirmation hearing for Steven Chu to be Secretary of the Department of Energy, provided no information regarding Chu's plans on over two-thirds of his Department's budget.
According to a report released just yesterday by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, at least 67 percent of DOE's budget goes to nuclear weapons and weapons-related programs. This is 14 times what DOE spends on all energy-related research and development, which was the main focus of today's questions from the Committee.
Dr. Chu was not asked what actions he would take to redirect DOE's $52 billion $15.9 billion for nuclear weapons and weapons-related programs to DOE's other responsibilities: energy-related R&D; general science, space, and technology programming; nuclear security; and nonproliferation efforts.
The Senate Armed Services Committee authorizes DOE's nuclear weapons programs, not the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. There are important questions that still need to be asked in a public hearing.
Confirmation hearings generally provide an important opportunity for oversight, but this hearing offered few clues as to how Chu will handle the enormous questions facing DOE's nuclear weapons complex.
"How can the Senate confirm Dr. Chu without having heard a single thing about how he plans to run the vast majority of the Department of Energy? This is a case where the Senate has left some pretty important questions unanswered," said POGO's Executive Director Danielle Brian.
CORRECTION 1/14/09: Although POGO's main point is accurate--that 2/3 of DOE's budget is nuclear weapons-related--upon further review of the Carnegie Endowment's report, we realized we misstated DOE's share of nuclear weapons-related spending. The correct number is $15.9 billion. Our press release incorrectly attributed to DOE the total amount spent by several agencies (including DOE) on nuclear weapons and related programs.