The U.S. Department of Energy is not responding to questions about Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s advocacy of Oak Ridge or the fiscal year 2018 budget request.
The only question from Oak Ridge Today that DOE has answered is: Will the department have a teleconference to discuss the budget request with reporters? The answer was “no.”
DOE, which could have a funding decrease under President Donald Trump’s budget request, has not responded to any specific questions about the budget itself. Oak Ridge Today has tried about a dozen times in the past month to reach someone in the public affairs office at DOE headquarters in Washington, D.C., using emails, phone calls, and on Wednesday night, a five-part tweet to active Twitter accounts for Perry and the DOE press staff.
Oak Ridge Today has sought information from the department since Trump sent the fiscal year 2018 budget request to Congress on Tuesday, May 23. Among other things, the news website has wanted to make sure that it is correctly interpreting the preliminary budget numbers published online by DOE. (See here, here, and here for more information about the budget request.)
According to the information Oak Ridge Today has received and reviewed, some Oak Ridge programs and sites could see funding increases under the president’s budget request, while others could see decreases. The programs and sites that could benefit include the environmental management program (the cleanup work at federal sites), Oak Ridge Office, and Y-12 National Security Complex. Those that could lose funding are DOE’s Office of Scientific and Technical Information, or OSTI; Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, which is managed by ORAU; and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Oak Ridge Today has sent specific questions about funding for most of these programs and sites to the public affairs office at DOE headquarters, but no spokespeople have responded, not even to acknowledge that the messages were received or to reply with a “no comment.”
Oak Ridge Today has also tried to follow up on Perry’s pledge to be a strong advocate for at least some programs in Oak Ridge. Perry made the pledge at ORNL’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility in Hardin Valley on Monday, May 22. The pledge came after he toured ORNL, the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility, and Y-12. During his visit to Oak Ridge and Hardin Valley, Perry learned about the planned Uranium Processing Facility and nuclear weapons work at Y-12, the environmental management program, and advanced manufacturing, 3D printing, materials science research, and supercomputing at ORNL.
The day after his visit, on Tuesday, May 23, the $28 billion DOE budget request released by the Trump administration showed significant cuts to ORNL and Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, or EERE, a partner of ORNL’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility, among other reductions.
Given that Perry made his advocacy pledge at ORNL and its Manufacturing Demonstration Facility, it seemed logical to ask: Given Secretary Perry’s pledge to be an advocate, has he been advocating for Oak Ridge programs since the fiscal year 2018 budget request came out? If so, what specifically is he advocating? Does he or DOE have any specific comments on the proposed changes in funding to Oak Ridge sites, including the potential increases to EM and at the Oak Ridge Office and Y-12, and potential cuts at ORISE, ORNL, and OSTI?
Also, Perry was at ORNL’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility when he made the pledge. So Oak Ridge Today asked: Does the energy secretary support or oppose the proposed cuts to Energy Effiency and Renewable Energy, which is a partner at that facility, and can he say how those cuts, if implemented, might affect the MDF and ORNL? Also, does he support or oppose the proposed funding cuts at ORNL? And is it accurate to say that the FY18 DOE budget request has some cuts to science- and education-related programs, and more money for national security/nuclear weapons work?
We have not received a response to any of those questions.
Unlike DOE, the National Nuclear Security Administration, which could have a funding increase, did have a teleconference with reporters in May on the fiscal year 2018 budget request, and the NNSA has responded to questions from Oak Ridge Today. The NNSA is a semi-autonomous agency within DOE.
The budget request has not yet been approved by Congress, where there is bipartisan opposition. Many officials are skeptical that the president’s budget request will pass as proposed, and some think that Oak Ridge will be okay. During Perry’s visit on May 22, ORNL Director Thom Mason said there is bipartisan support for DOE’s Office of Science, which would be cut by $874 million under Trump’s proposed budget. ORNL is an Office of Science laboratory.
“I’m pretty confident that the lab will come through okay in the end,” Mason said in May.
Local officials have pointed out the positive reception that Oak Ridge sites received from Perry, who has shared tweets about Oak Ridge since then, during his visit here in May.
Fiscal year 2018 starts October 1.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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