December 16, 2016 / 4:55 PM / a year ago

Energy Dept choice pits Trump against bureaucracy

CHICAGO (Reuters Breakingviews) - Donald Trump’s choice of Rick Perry to head the U.S. Department of Energy may accelerate the inevitable clash between the president-elect and Washington’s bureaucrats. It would be a mistake for Trump to underestimate their ability to slow-roll his agenda.

Perry, a climate-change skeptic and former Texas governor, ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 promising to dismantle the federal energy agency. The DOE is already resisting a Trump request to furnish lists of staffers working on climate issues, though his transition team has since backed away from the demand.

It’s a reminder that the legions of U.S. federal workers are themselves a force in policy. Conspiracy-minded Americans worry about a powerful “deep state” that steers government activity regardless of who’s in elected office.

Until Trump picked him on Wednesday, Perry was best known for a 2011 debate gaffe in which he blanked on one of the federal departments he’d like to abolish. He could only name two of three, but later clarified that the other was the $30 billion Energy Department. That makes Perry the most ironic of Trump’s several fox-in-the-henhouse appointments. Last week Trump named Scott Pruitt, also a climate-change unbeliever, to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

The cabinet provides figureheads, but the new administration will need government employees to carry out its bidding. It’s too early to tell whether the DOE’s early resistance is a prelude to a broader bureaucratic revolt, but it wouldn’t be a huge surprise. Much of the agency’s budget is dedicated to national-security matters, including testing and securing America’s nuclear weapons.

With climate change also firmly established as a national-security risk - not just at the DOE, but at the Pentagon as well - Trump may find that Perry isn’t someone who can easily rally the agency’s ranks behind him. There are plenty of hurdles officialdom can place in the president’s path if he antagonizes enough of its representatives.

On Twitter twitter.com/KevinAllison

CONTEXT NEWS

- President-elect Donald Trump on Dec. 14 named former Texas Governor Rick Perry to head the U.S. Department of Energy. Perry, who has close ties to the oil industry and has questioned the science behind climate change, suggested in 2011 that the department should be abolished.

- The Energy Department on Dec. 13 said it would not comply with a request from Trump’s transition team to list staffers who have worked on climate change and the professional society memberships of lab workers. The Trump team on Dec. 14 said that a questionnaire sent to the department requesting the information “was not authorized or part of our standard protocol.”

(The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Editing by Richard Beales and Martin Langfield

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