Conservatives, including Rick Perry when he manages to remember his own platform, sometimes talk about their desire to eliminate the Department of Energy. The existence of this department has presumably attracted their ire because it was established during Jimmy Carter’s administration and it perhaps sounds like it might have something to do with solar panels. But like many of America’s cabinet agencies, it’s very much a mixed bag of sub-programs. It includes, for example, the National Nuclear Safety Administration which is a bloated big government regulatory effort to make sure America’s nuclear weapons function properly. I, personally, would not have a big problem with reducing American’s overall nuclear weapons spending but keeping the lights on in the agency that “continuously assesses and evaluates each nuclear weapon to certify its reliability and to detect and/or anticipate any potential problems that may come about as a result of aging” seems important.
By the same token, the DOE also houses the Naval Nuclear Reactors program which “provides the design, development and operational support required to provide militarily effective nuclear propulsion plants and ensure their safe, reliable and long-lived operation.”
Now I think that if Perry thought about it for a minute or two he’d decide that he doesn’t actually want to de-nuclearize the Navy, and whatever it is he means by abolishing the Department of Energy it’s not actually canceling all of the programs the DOE oversees. But this is precisely why reporters need to press politicians much more vigorously when they talk about eliminating cabinet departments. The country could obviously get by without a Department of Commerce, but that’s different from saying that it would be no problem to abolish all the specific programs and agencies that comprise the Commerce Department. The department’s functions could be parceled out in different ways. NOAA could go to Interior, BEA could be merged with BLS in a new statistics agency, etc. I believe some of my CAP colleagues developed a proposal along these lines. But nobody should be allowed to get away with hazily waving at whole cabinet departments without talking about what, exactly, it is they’re saying should happen. My strong suspicion is that Perry actually has no idea what the scope of the Energy department’s defense-related activities are and is just running his mouth off.