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Suggested Questions for Steven Chu

By Ed O'Keefe

President-elect Barack Obama's nominee for energy secretary, Dr. Steven Chu appears before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee today for his confirmation hearing.

Department of Energy

The next energy secretary faces several challenges, including determining how to fill the nation's strategic petroleum reserve, developing renewable energy sources and assessing nonproliferation efforts, according to a report by the General Accountability Office that assessed procedural and managerial challenges facing the next leaders of 28 government departments and agencies. The report also recommends several questions lawmakers could ask the nominees, some of which are posted after the jump.

What do you think the Senate should ask Dr. Chu? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

• With over 700 million barrels of oil currently in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, there are sufficient reserves to meet all but the most extreme oil supply disruptions. However, as demand for oil rises in the future, the level of protection provided by the reserve may fall unless it increases along with demand. What do you see as the trade-offs in deciding how large the reserve should be? What criteria or decision process would you suggest for deciding when to fill the reserve with an eye to managing cost?

• The federal government faces severe fiscal challenges and limited budgets, and that will put pressure on all discretionary spending, including federally funded research and development in advanced energy technologies. What successes can you cite in building a business case for long-term investments involving high uncertainty? What do you think are key strategies for ensuring taxpayers get the most “bang for the buck” from department-funded and other federally funded research and development efforts for advanced energy technologies?

• Meeting our renewable fuel standard’s goal of 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels annually by 2022 will stretch our use of water, arable land, and other resources. Can you describe the kinds of long-term strategic planning that you have done that might help us attain such a goal without overburdening these resources?

• The Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and the Department of Transportation share responsibility for encouraging and enabling energy conservation. What experiences do you have that would enable you to help successfully lead this joint effort? Can you describe specific examples where you have successfully collaborated across organizational boundaries to achieve a common goal?

• The department is planning a 25-year, $80 billion transformation of the nation’s nuclear weapons complex from Cold War legacy facilities into a modern organization. This transformation—including the construction of major new facilities—is being planned without clear requirements from the Department of Defense about its weapons and stockpiling needs. Can you describe any major planning efforts you have been involved in that had to proceed with great uncertainty about key parameters or operating assumptions? How does an organization proceed with its planning in a way that accommodates such uncertainty?

• Based on your experiences, what are the most significant barriers in the U.S. government to building and retaining the human capital needed to manage complex projects? How do you propose to overcome these barriers?

• What are your qualifications and experience to manage the information
sharing and security needs of large, complex organizations like the
department and its contractors?

• Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the U.S. government, led by the department’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), has spent more than $11 billion to reduce the proliferation risks posed by nuclear and radiological materials and warheads at facilities in Russia and other countries. Given that the department’s nonproliferation efforts involve a number of foreign countries, what kinds of international or diplomatic qualifications do you have that might assist you furthering NNSA’s nonproliferation efforts?

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By Ed O'Keefe  | January 13, 2009; 6:45 AM ET
Categories:  Administration, Confirmation Hearings, Congress  
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Next: Suggested Questions for Hillary Clinton

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