The Collapse of D.O.E

From Michael Lewis:

Allegedly, between the election and the inauguration not a single Trump representative set foot inside the Department of Agriculture, for example. The Department of Agriculture has employees or contractors in every county in the United States, and the Trump people seemed simply to be ignoring the place. Where they did turn up inside the federal government, they appeared confused and unprepared. A small group attended a briefing at the State Department, for instance, only to learn that the briefings they needed to hear were classified. None of the Trump people had security clearance—or, for that matter, any experience in foreign policy—and so they weren’t allowed to receive an education…

After the inauguration, a lot of deeply knowledgeable people will scatter to the four winds and be forbidden, by federal law, from initiating any contact with their replacements…

After Pyle’s list of questions wound up on Bloomberg News, the Trump administration disavowed them, but a signal had been sent: We don’t want you to help us understand; we want to find out who you are and punish you…

Not knowing what else to do, but without anyone to replace him, the C.F.O. of a $30 billion operation just up and left…

Roughly half of the D.O.E.’s annual budget is spent on maintaining and guarding our nuclear arsenal, for instance…

“It’s kindergarten soccer. Everyone is on the ball. No one is at their positions. But I doubt Trump sees the reality. Everywhere he goes everything is going to be hunky-dory and nice. No one gives him the bad news.”..

The third department Perry wanted to get rid of, he later recalled, was the Department of Energy. In his confirmation hearings to run the department Perry confessed that when he called for its elimination he hadn’t actually known what the Department of Energy did—and he now regretted having said that it didn’t do anything worth doing…

With the nuclear physicist who understood the D.O.E. perhaps better than anyone else on earth, according to one person familiar with the meeting, Perry had spent minutes, not hours. “He has no personal interest in understanding what we do and effecting change,” a D.O.E. staffer told me in June. “He’s never been briefed on a program—not a single one, which to me is shocking.”..

“There’s a lack of professionalism. They’re not very polite. Maybe they’ve never worked in an office or government setting. It’s not hostility so much as a real sense of concern with sharing information with career employees. Because of that lack of communication, nothing is being done. All policy questions remain unanswered.”..

“[T]he best and the brightest are the ones being targeted. They will leave fastest. Because they will get the best job offers.”..

“It took me about a year to understand it all,” he said (which raises the question of how long it would take someone who wasn’t so curious)…

“The office of science in D.O.E. is not the office of science for D.O.E.,” said MacWilliams. “It’s the office of science for all science in America.”..

“There are things you want to know that would keep you up at night. And I never talked to anyone about them.”..

The safety of the electrical grid sat at or near the top of the list of concerns of everyone I spoke with inside the D.O.E…

The safety of the electrical grid sat at or near the top of the list of concerns of everyone I spoke with inside the D.O.E…

In December 1938, German scientists discovered uranium fission. Physicist Enrico Fermi’s report on the Germans’ work made its way to Albert Einstein, and in 1939 Einstein wrote a letter to Franklin Roosevelt. That letter is the founding document of the Department of Energy…

When I asked him to guess what it would cost to return Hanford to the standards now legally required, he said, “A century and a hundred billion dollars.”..

The worst thing that could happen is that the federal government loses interest in it and slashes the D.O.E.’s budget—as President Trump has proposed to do. And yet Trump won the county in which Hanford resides by 25 points…

On these farms lay buried 177 tanks, each roughly the size of a four-story apartment building and capable of holding a million gallons of “high-level waste.” Fifty-six million gallons now in the tanks are classified as “high-level waste.”..

One hundred and forty-nine of the tanks in the Hanford farms are made of a single shell of a steel ill-designed to contain highly acidic nuclear waste. Sixty-seven of them have failed in some way and allowed waste or vapors to seep out..

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…

Here is where the Trump administration’s willful ignorance plays a role. If your ambition is to maximize short-term gains without regard to the long-term cost, you are better off not knowing those costs.

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