OPINION: Kendall Stanley ó Think, for heavenís sake!
The Trump administration has been slow, to say the least, to fill positions in the myriad federal agencies that keep this country running. In at least one case, it threatens our security.
Michael Lewis, in a recent issue of Vanity Fair, outlined the ways in which the country is harmed by the lack of interest in this important agency.
Former Texas governor Rick Perry famously, once he remembered, wanted to eliminate the agency – and now he heads it.
It’s obvious Perry and others in the administration have no clue as to the wide-ranging, critical and security aspects of the Department of Energy.
After the November election was there any interaction between the incoming Trump transition team and the agency? Nope. Nada. Zippo.
While it might seem that the agency would be a shill for the oil and gas industry, its range of duties is much more far reaching.
Keeping track and cleaning up our nation’s nuclear waste sites? Check.
Making sure the power grid stays up and running? Check.
Guarding the nation’s nuclear arsenal? Check.
Keeping track of the movement of nuclear materials around the world so it doesn’t get in the wrong hands? Check.
Monitoring Iran’s nuclear program so they don’t produce nuclear weapons? Check.
You’d think that with all those things going on someone from the Trump transition team would be willing to go over to energy and see what the agency does and how important it is to pay attention to their agenda. You’d be wrong.
DOE officials cleared 30 desks and 30 parking spaces for members of the Trump transition team for a meeting on Nov. 9, the day after the election. They waited, and waited and waited some more. Nothing.
The department wasn’t alone; most federal agencies had no one show up at their doors from the Trump team.
The danger of the negligence by the new administration is palpable.
“Roughly half of the DOE’s annual budget (of $30 billion) is spent on maintaining our nuclear arsenal, for instance,” Lewis writes. “Two billion of that goes to hunting down weapons-grade plutonium and uranium at loose in the world so that it doesn’t fall into the hands of terrorists. In just the past eight years the DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration has collected enough material to make 160 nuclear bombs. The department trains every international atomic-energy inspector; if nuclear power plants around the world are not producing weapons-grade material on the sly by reprocessing spent fuel rods and recovering plutonium, it’s because of these people. The DOE also supplies radiation-detection equipment to enable other counties to detect bomb material making its way across national borders.”
Lewis continued on with many examples of the work the DOE does and the impact of what can happen if that work is not continued.
An example is the Hanford site near the Columbia River where plutonium was produced for nuclear weapons. As Lewis noted, “The people who created the plutonium for the first bombs, in the 1940s and 1950s, were understandably in too much of a rush to worry about what might happen afterward. They simply dumped 120 million gallons of high-level waste, and another 444 billion gallons of contaminated liquid, into the ground. They piled uranium (half-life: 4.5 billion years) into unlined pits near the Columbia River. They dug 42 miles of trenches to dispose of solid radioactive waste – and left no good records of what’s in the trenches.”
The Department of Energy is tasked with the job of cleaning that all up.
And still the Trump administration wants to cut its budget.
The first job for an incoming administration is filling all the vacancies that occur in federal agencies when the appointees of the previous administration leave because their time ends with the outgoing administration. They leave by the thousands.
This administration has failed at filling those spots, in some cases at the nation’s peril as Lewis pointed out.
Yes, we know Trump was elected to “drain the swamp.” Just remember when you drain the swamp you then have to contend with the creatures that crawl out of it.
You do so at your own peril.
Kendall P. Stanley is retired editor of the News-Review. He can be contacted at <mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org>email@example.com. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and not necessarily of the Petoskey News-Review or its employees.