After many years of blogging, and consistent with my desire to move toward retirement, we have ended the Insights blog. Thanks to Doug Bedell for his years of blog support.

‘Right-sized’ Government Needs Effective People

Posted on March 2, 2011
Filed Under Government, Technology | Leave a Comment

The thing about government is not whether it’s bloated or barren, but whether it’s effective – whether it can attract competent people to achieve necessary, cost-effective goals.

People like U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who just happens to have a Nobel Prize in physics. President Obama added Chu to the “fire brigade” that helped deal with the British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last year. Chu suggested using high-powered gamma rays for getting images of the well’s blowout preventer. After initial skepticism, BP engineers agreed he was right.

“Oil spils were not something I’ve worked on, but I do know about gamma rays,” Chu says in an energybiz profile of him..

Yet the newsletter notes that having competent people on hand doesn’t necessarily insure effectiveness if missions and goals aren’t set aptly enough. The Energy Department has been mainly concerned with nuclear matters, and Secretary Chu himself is a nuclear scientist. Otherwise, the department has been largely on the sidelines.

Secretary Chu came in for a little ribbing last year when he addressed the United Nations global warming conference in Copenhagen. After the secretary observed that refrigerators and lighting could be made more efficient, the Guardian retorted that his thinking seemed 15 years out of date. “European governments,” energybiz notes, “have been pushing these notions for more than a decade and have spent far more money than any envisaged by the U.S. government.”

Talented people need to be in a position to give direction to government. Some observers feel that the U.S. energy policy has been influenced more by what the “free market” wants than by forward-looking policy-making in response to growing needs.

Energybiz quotes Robert Alvarez, who was an adviser to the energy secretary in the 1990’s, as saying DOE was purposely kept on the sidelines. “The consensus that was maintained by Democrats and Republicans was that the market knew better than government. Government shouldn’t be playing any role. It was deliberate that DOE should be a nonplayer.”

Now that our energy challenges are increasingly apparent, it will be interesting to see what Secretary Chu’s Energy Department accomplishes with the billions in stimulus funds it’s being entrusted to disburse wisely. We’ll see whether a competent energy secretary can accomplish broad-guage goals in this new setting. – Doug Bedell


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