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Energy’s Steven Chu has an awesome sense of humor

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From The Onion

The Onion today published an amusing story with the headline “Hungover Energy Secretary Wakes Up Next To Solar Panel.” It contains an incriminating photo of a perplexed Steven Chu in bed wearing a tank-top, and this classic quote: “This is bad. I really need to stop doing this. I’ve got to get this thing out of here before my wife gets home.”

But what is even better than the story is this: Chu actually responded on his official Facebook page, and denied the alleged affair with a solar panel was behind his decision to step down from the Energy Department. Said Chu:

I just want everyone to know that my decision not to serve a second term as Energy Secretary has absolutely nothing to do with the allegations made in this week’s edition of the Onion. While I’m not going to confirm or deny the charges specifically, I will say that clean, renewable solar power is a growing source of U.S. jobs and is becoming more and more affordable, so it’s no surprise that lots of Americans are falling in love with solar.

Ahem. “Not going to confirm or deny the charges”? We can read between the lines, Mr. Secretary. (Hat tip to Mike Sager for giving me a heads up on this one.)

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Head of National Nuclear Security Administration steps down

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The Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration’s administrator is stepping down, according to a Dec. 21 statement. Thomas D’Agostino has worked in the federal government for more than 36 years but said the time had come to step down – effective Jan. 18, 2013 – and make way for new leadership.
The full statement is reprinted below:
After more than 36 years of service — including the last five and a half years as the NNSA Administrator and Under Secretary for Nuclear Security, and two years as Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs — my wife Beth and I have decided the timing is right for me to leave Federal service.  This was a difficult decision for me as I am committed to serving our country, committed to the missions of the NNSA, the Environmental Management Organization, the Office of Legacy Management, and I am committed to you in carrying out this mission.

However, I have an equally important commitment to my wife and family and I am a strong believer that organizations are healthier when leadership changes on a periodic basis.  The time is right for this change and I will step down from this position on 18 January 2013, at the end of the first term of the Obama Administration.

The ability to serve our nation is a privilege and I have been blessed to be able to do so for many years.  You should consider yourselves blessed as well.  Whether you are a federal civilian, military service member, a laboratory or production plant employee, or support service contractor, you are all serving our nation in an important way.  What makes a great job?  I think there are a few essential ingredients.  These ingredients include the ability to serve, the ability to work in an area that has an impact with real meaning and national significance, and finally the ability to work with exceptional and committed professionals.  All of us are very fortunate to have this opportunity in the work we do every day.  In the hustle of the work that we do on a day to day basis, it is easy to forget that we are blessed to have jobs that possess these ingredients.  Take the time to remember what you have in your work and the value you bring to your country.

Finally, I want to thank you for your support to me over the nearly eight years in these positions.  I deeply appreciate your commitment to the mission, for keeping an eye on what is important, and for taking care of each other.  As Beth frequently reminds me, take the time and effort to make a real difference in someone’s life each and every day, a philosophy that I have found to help guide me and maintain a sense of personal and professional balance.  It has been truly an honor and privilege to serve with you and to serve the country in the wide variety of roles and opportunities I have been presented.  I will cherish the many memories and relationships that have been forged during our time working together.

Until the time when a fully confirmed Administrator and Undersecretary is in place, I ask that you give your full support to Neile Miller as she takes on the role of acting Administrator and acting Undersecretary for Nuclear Security.

Do not forget what you do.  You Serve.  Press on with the nation’s work.  May God richly bless you.  Tom

Energy Dept. wins SmartPay innovation award

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The General Service Administration awarded this year’s SmartPay 2 Innovation award to the Energy Department for its use of an electronic payment system that will better track individual purchase orders, J.P. Morgan bank announced Thursday.

The Energy Department was the first agency to use J.P. Morgan’s Single-Use Account for SmartPay charge card purchases with CH2M-WG Idaho, one of its major contractors, according to a news release.

Instead of CH2M-WG Idaho using a general account number for all of  its charges, the Single-Use Account issued a unique, 16-digit account number for each payment that CH2M-WG made to its vendors. This allowed the contractor to pay its vendors faster, better track where payments are going and increase payment security, according to J.P. Morgan’s global commercial card division.

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So what about those White House solar panels?

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Last year Energy Secretary Stephen Chu announced with much fanfare at a green government symposium that the White House will have solar panels on it – by the end of spring no less.

Well, that day has come and gone. But instead of solar panels, there is just a June 20 statement on the Energy Department’s blog that says the following before highlighting areas of success:

The Energy Department remains on the path to complete the White House solar demonstration project, in keeping with our commitment, and we look forward to sharing more information — including additional details on the timing of this project — after the competitive procurement process is completed.

When I asked the Energy Department why the project was not completed on time, I only got the return answer to just see that statement. Inquiries to the White House were directed back to the Energy Department, since they were in charge of procurement.

But why the project was delayed or for what reasons is not clear. The only thing that we know is that there are no solar panels on the White House.

Rep. Paul Broun: Get rid of Energy, Education departments

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Rep. Paul Broun, R-G.A., has one demand to get his vote to raise the federal debt ceiling: eliminate the Education and Energy Departments.

In a townhall meeting with constituents Ma 19 that was captured in video on YouTube, the congressman makes his demand to the cheers of his constituents.

Survey: Many agencies still sluggish on FOIA changes despite White House push

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Two years after President Obama pledged a new dawning of governmental sunshine, barely half of 90 federal agencies say they’ve made concrete changes in their handling of Freedom of Information Act requests, according to survey findings released Sunday.

While 49 agencies reported changes to their FOIA processes, the remainder either said they had no information or did not respond to the Knight Open Government Survey.

In a similar round-up last year, only 13 agencies reported changes, so this year’s numbers reflect a large uptick. Still, “at this rate, the president’s first term in office will be over by the time federal agencies do what he asked them to do on his first day in office,” said Eric Newton, a senior adviser at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which paid for the study.

The results were released by the National Security Archive, a private research organization based at George Washington University that helped carry out the survey. The findings could offer grist for a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on FOIA scheduled for this Thursday.

For the survey, researchers filed FOIA requests asking agencies for copies of changes in their FOIA regulations, manuals, training materials or processing guidance resulting from a 2009 memo from Obama favoring disclosure or from follow-up instructions issued last year.

While several large agencies—including the Defense, Interior and Health and Human Services departments—reported changes, other heavyweights did not. Among them were the Commerce, Energy, State and Education departments.  And, oh yes, the Justice Department, the lead agency for carrying out FOIA policy.

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Government responses to shutdown questions UPDATE

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The Energy, Commerce and Defense departments seem to be on the same page, at least when it comes to handling media inquires about a possible government shutdown.

As a matter of course, here is what the Defense Department sent over:

As a matter of course, the Department of Defense plans for contingencies. In fact, since 1980, all agencies have had to have a plan in case of a government shutdown, and these plans are updated routinely. We will do everything we have to do to continue to support the deployed troops. The Department must also continue many other operations necessary for the safety of human life and protection of property. These types of activities will be “exempt” from cessation. All other activities would need to be shut down in an orderly and deliberate fashion.

Federal Times received similiar responses from other agencies…

Here is a response from the Energy Department (Emphasis added).

As a matter of course, our agency plans for contingencies, but this is besides the point since, as the bipartisan congressional leadership has said on a number of occasions and as the President has made clear, no one anticipates or wants a government shutdown. The Department is working with both sides on Capitol Hill to fund the government and keep its vital services and functions operating.

Here is the response from the Commerce Department:

As a matter of course, the Commerce Department plans for contingenciesIn fact, since 1980, all agencies have had to have a plan in case of a government shutdown, and these plans are updated routinely.  All of this is beside the point since, as the bipartisan congressional leadership has said on a number of occasions and as the President has made clear, no one anticipates or wants a government shutdown. The administration will work with both sides on Capitol Hill to fund the government and keep its vital services and functions operating.

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Government responses to shutdown questions eerily similar

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The staff over here at Federal Times are getting a sense of deja vu from agency responses to our questions about a possible government shutdown.

Here is a response from the Energy Department (Emphasis added).

As a matter of course, our agency plans for contingencies, but this is besides the point since, as the bipartisan congressional leadership has said on a number of occasions and as the President has made clear, no one anticipates or wants a government shutdown. The Department is working with both sides on Capitol Hill to fund the government and keep its vital services and functions operating.

Here is the response from the Commerce Department:

As a matter of course, the Commerce Department plans for contingencies.  In fact, since 1980, all agencies have had to have a plan in case of a government shutdown, and these plans are updated routinely.  All of this is beside the point since, as the bipartisan congressional leadership has said on a number of occasions and as the President has made clear, no one anticipates or wants a government shutdown. The administration will work with both sides on Capitol Hill to fund the government and keep its vital services and functions operating.

Somehow I doubt that these two public affairs people at these two agencies came up with the exact same phrasing and punctuation.

I will post questions to each of these agencies and will update if I get a response.


Teenage mutant ninja rabbits?

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This rabbit's got a vicious streak a mile wide. It's a killer!

The Tri-City Herald in Washington state this morning reports about a sticky situation emerging at an Energy Department facility. A radioactive rabbit has been caught at the Hanford nuclear reservation in Richland, Wash., and state health workers are now combing nearby grounds for — yes — radioactive rabbit droppings.

The scary thing is, this isn’t the first time this has happened. Hanford had another mutant bunny emergency last year, and flew helicopters above the grounds to locate the radioactive poop, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

And in much less cute news, the Seattle Times reported in 2009 that Hanford was trying to clean up radioactive wasps’ nests. (You couldn’t pay me enough to go toe-to-toe with angry, radioactive wasps.)

Hanford was the site the government used to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons during the Manhattan Project. It is now one of the most contaminated nuclear sites in the country, and Congress set aside about $2 billion from last year’s stimulus bill to help clean up Hanford.

As the video below shows, exercise all caution when approaching deadly killer rabbits. They may seem cute, but looks can be deceiving…

YouTube Preview Image

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Energy Department steps up efficiency enforcement

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The Energy Department announced $3.5 million in proposed penalties against 27 companies and manufacturers of products that have not complied with energy efficiency certification requirements.

The latest proposed penalties are part of a new effort to enforce compliance on energy efficiency, according to the Energy Department.

Scott Blake Harris, the Energy Department’s general counsel, wrote on the agency blog that that when he arrived in his position, the agency was not enforcing 35-year old energy efficiency standards.

He said that these standards are a critical part of future national energy plans. He also said that stepped-up enforcement is a minimum of what the agency can do.

Secretary of Energy Steven Chu has said that when it comes to remediating climate change and promoting energy independence, improved energy efficiency is not just low-hanging fruit—it’s fruit lying on the ground.

He said strong enforcement and compliance will result in roughly $250 to $300 billion in savings to taxpayers through 2030.