Loretta PrencipeFriday, January 27, 2017
This article also appears as an 1/25/2017 op-ed on The Hill.
The big headline on last Thursday’s confirmation hearing for Secretary of Energy nominee Rick Perry struck a good note: Perry regrets recommending the departments elimination.
The real question beyond the less-than-substantive coverage of Perry’s “oops” moment when he forgot the name of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), or his time on Dancing with the Stars, is this: What kind of Secretary will Perry be?
During the second term of the George W. Bush Administration, I was the top communicator at DOE, working closely and traveling with then Secretary Bodman—a man that was well liked and respected by career and political DOE officials for his problem-solving skills as well as his ability to set goals and a path to achieve them. But more importantly, it was Bodman’s ability as a skilled manager and executive that had a lasting and positive impact on the Department’s operations, programs and people.
DOE is a complex agency, with two agencies, 10 program offices, 21 staff offices, 21 national labs, four power marketing administrations, and 11 field sites. This Secretary is in charge of a Department that has responsibility for the handling of nuclear waste, providing security for the nation’s nuclear weapons, ensuring that our grid is secure and that our energy at home and at the office is accessible, affordable and always on.
What can we surmise about Perry as Secretary?
Let’s start with this: Perry became one of the most powerful governors ever to walk the corridors of the Texas Capitol. He was as a deal maker, working closely with Democrats in Austin to accomplish his agenda. And his emphatic support for oil, gas and wind energy transformed the Texas’s landscape—and fueled its economy—during his 14 years as governor.
The Perry public persona is that of a man with ambition. Perry may see this position as his last chance to make a move within the Republican Party. And the more time he spends on the old climate wars of the Obama Administration, the less ground he will make up within the Party.
Perry’s statements during his confirmation hearing are indicative of someone who will hold to his beliefs and look for the right solutions. He said simply and powerfully, “I believe the climate is changing. I believe some of it is naturally occurring, but some of it is also caused by manmade activity. The question is how do we address it in a thoughtful way that doesn’t compromise economic growth, the affordability of energy, or American jobs.”
It should not come as a shock that in a cabinet with billionaire CEOs and four star Generals, Perry finds himself where no Giuliani, Gingrich or Christie trends. He was not brought in for regulatory prowess or scientific expertise. Rather, Perry is Trump’s choice because he’s a manager having run a massive bureaucracy in Texas—and a politician—who has the ability get the job done.
Managing the Department, and managing those who impact the Department, will be complex.
As an ambitious, charismatic and experienced manager, Perry will need to put in place lieutenants who can help him develop a policy agenda, and he will need to cultivate the support of DOE career employees to help him achieve those goals. Perry will need to manage the politics of the Department beyond the walls of the Forrestal Building. In Washington, few Secretaries will have to answer to as many Committees on Capitol Hill. One thing is for certain, Perry’s success in managing DOE and his ability to communicate with Congress and the public on energy issues will be critical to the Administration’s first days in office.
Andy Beck is Executive Vice President of Makovsky’s energy, manufacturing and sustainability practice, and general manager of Makovsky’s Washington, D.C. office. Previously, Andy served as the Director of Public Affairs for the U.S. Department of Energy.