After environmentalists and mainstream politicians alike succeeded in dedicating a good chunk of President Obama's stimulus package to green energy, Obama's new energy secretary has been working on ways to make that happen more efficiently. Last week, Energy Secretary Steven Chu (who holds a Nobel Prize in physics) announced a slew of reforms to how the department doles out money, and a department official says more are on the way. The goal: streamlining the process so stimulus dollars can get spent sooner.
Many have posed the economic crisis as an opportunity for green revolution, and at a roundtable discussion on energy yesterday at the Newseum, the economy/energy/environment nexus was on the tip of many tongues.
"We have a plan going forward where we can reduce what could have been years down to months, and we feel very strongly that this thing will work," Chu said of DoE spending as luminaries such as Bill Cinton, Al Gore, T. Boone Pickens, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi listened.
Chu's reforms include rolling appraisals of applications for loans and funding, using outside contractors to underwrite loans, more staff and resources to process applications, and simplifying application paperwork. Chu has appointed Matt Rogers, a former senior partner at consulting giant McKinsey & Company, who also worked on energy procurement reform as part of Obama's transition team, to implement these reforms and oversee the stimulus money.
The stimulus placed $38.7 billion in the department's hands, with heavy emphases on alternative energy, efficiency, and infrastructure modernization. DoE says it will start offering loan guarantees under stimulus provisions early this summer, and that 70 percent of the stimulus cash will be spent by the end of next year.
To hear politicians and activists talk about the timing of stimulus cash flow, "now" seems to be the only acceptable answer. A significant part of Chu's job, so far, has been changing the way the department operates in order to make that happen.