American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program

Update on Efforts To Abolish the Department of Energy: 12-26-96

Freshmen members of the House of Representatives arrived in Washington two years ago sensing a mandate to make fundamental changes in the way the federal government operates. A high priority was given to several task forces intended to abolish a number of Cabinet-level departments, including the Departments of Energy, Education, and Commerce. Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-KS) was put in charge of the task force to develop legislation to abolish DOE. The resulting bill, H.R. 1993, was released with much fanfare the following summer. The bill would turn over the bulk of DOE's defense-related activities to the Department of Defense, for the first time placing the nation's nuclear weapons production complex under direct military control. In the post-Cold War era, much of the effort has shifted from production to clean-up of weapons production facilities with massive contamination problems, such as the Hanford reservation in Washington state. The bill would turn the Yucca Mountain project over to the Army Corps of Engineers and seek to privatize the national laboratories. Most of the energy R&D programs would be abolished.

H.R. 1993 ran into considerable opposition as might be expected, and it made no progress even in the House where the leadership supported it. Many in the Senate leadership opposed the measure, particularly Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) who oversees appropriations for DOE. Facing a certain presidential veto, the legislation would have required overwhelming Republican support and considerable Democratic support for passage. H.R. 1993 has since gone out of print at the House Documents Room and is considered a dead bill.

Comparable activity occured on the Senate side where Senator Rod Grams (R-MN) introduced a similar bill, S. 1678. The bill would also transfer the bulk of DOE to DOD, including the major weapons laboratories: Sandia, Los Alamos, and Lawrence Livermore. The remaining labs would be transferred to the National Science Foundation, an unlikely home given its mission as solely a granting agency. Like H.R. 1993, this bill would turn responsibility for the Yucca Mountain project over to the Army Corps of Engineers. This bill faced a similar fate to H.R. 1993, as a hearing was held in The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on September 4th and no further action was taken.

Contributed by David Applegate, AGI Government Affairs

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Last updated December 26, 1996 by Kasey Shewey, AGI Government Affairs

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