June 16, 1998 | Executive Summary on Political Thought
The 103rd Congress passed the Government Performance and Results Act in 1993 to make federal agencies more responsive and accountable to the American people. The Results Act requires agencies to submit strategic plans to Congress that clearly specify their missions and goals. House Majority Leader Richard Armey, who leads the congressional effort to evaluate and grade these strategic plans, believes the Results Act enables Congress to ask "What's working, what's wasted, what makes any difference, [and] what's duplicative" before appropriating more money for an agency.
The Department of Energy (DOE) is a textbook example of an agency whose own agency plan highlights the depth of its problems. The department's final strategic plan, submitted in September 1997, was the culmination of four years of planning, drafts, and revisions. It received an anemic grade of 43.5 out of 100 possible points and a ranking of 12th out of 24 agency plans submitted. DOE's fiscal year (FY) 1999 annual performance plan, linking specific performance measures to elements of its budget request, was submitted in February. It fared even worse, scoring 30 out of 100 and ranking 20th out of 24. (See Chart 1.)
Given this poor performance record, Congress increased DOE's budget by only $13 million between FY 1997 and FY 1998, and held its total budget to about $16.5 billion. For FY 1999, however, the Department of Energy is asking Congress to reward its dismal Results Act report card with a budget hike that would be 100 times larger than the one it received in FY 1998, to give it more than $18 billion in tax dollars. (See Chart 1.)
Yet, as Victor Rezendes of the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) testified before Congress, "DOE's mission and priorities have changed dramatically over time so that the Department is now very different from what it was in 1977. While energy research, conservation and policy-making dominated early DOE priorities, weapons production and now environmental cleanup overshadow its budget." Today, 75 percent of DOE's budget is spent on activities other than energy resources.
Fortunately, some Members of Congress are asking why an agency with no clear mission should continue to be funded, let alone receive increased funding as requested in the President's budget. Representative John Kasich, chairman of the House Budget Committee, proposed that the Department of Energy be eliminated in FY 1999. The government's own evaluations, from report cards issued by the congressional staff team tasked with grading agency plans to reports prepared by the GAO and agency inspectors general, highlight at least five reasons why Congress should consider closing down the Department of Energy.
Major programs within the Department of Energy that should be privatized include the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, the Power Marketing Administrations, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and the Energy Information Administration.
A Cabinet department that reports directly to the President should have a clearly defined mission. No case has been made that DOE's functions must be performed in the public sector or that its programs are more valuable than the budgetary resources they consume. The truth is that if the Department of Energy were closed down tomorrow, most Americans would not even notice. In the case of DOE, the Administration is using unfounded fears about global warming to increase the budgets of energy research and development programs substantially. Many of these programs already have a long history of failure.
The Results Act was intended to trigger congressional decisions to reshape the size and scope of the federal government. DOE's substandard report card should provoke Congress to move in this direction by eliminating this unnecessary, wasteful, and expensive agency.
Angela Antonelli is the former Director of The Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.