Statement of U.S. Secretary of Energy Federico Peña

April 6, 1998

Forrestal Building, DOE, Washington D.C.

 

Good morning. This weekend, I advised the President and Vice President that I would be leaving the Administration on June 30. I made this difficult decision with mixed emotions. There is never a perfect time for a decision like this, but I believe that after five and a half years as a member of the Clinton cabinet, the time is now.

I am leaving the Administration for personal and family reasons. Ellen and I have three wonderful children, and it is now time for us to focus on their futures.

It's been about five and a half years since a newly-elected President Clinton tracked me down while on a flight with Ellen and two sick daughters to spend Christmas with my family in Texas. We decided in the early morning hours around my parents' kitchen table to come to Washington and take the job as Secretary of Transportation.

Four years later, after working to increase the level of competitiveness of America's transportation industry, making safety a top priority with our "one-level of safety initiative," signing aviation agreements with 40 nations, opening lucrative markets for American airlines, overseeing a 22 percent increase in infrastructure investments and more investments in mass transit than at any time since Woodrow Wilson was president, Ellen and I put a for sale sign up in front of our house and prepared to go home to Colorado. But I got another phone call -- or rather a series of calls -- from the President and the Vice President asking me to take the job of Secretary of Energy.

I came to the Department of Energy with four years of experience running a major department and quickly immersed myself in defending our 98 budget, addressing a management crisis at Brookhaven National Laboratory, and recruiting a solid management team.

I have been impressed with and want to thank the extraordinary men and women at the Department of Energy for their hard work, their dedication to our country, and for their loyal support of me as Secretary of Energy. My work here at Energy has been challenging and exhilarating, and I believe we've made important progress in several key areas. In addition to recruiting a solid management team, we have been working constructively with the Congress, and have worked hard to support the President's major initiatives.

The President early on asked that we bring further management reforms to DOE. I have been requiring good management, that our sites be good neighbors to the communities in which they live, that we be open and honest and that environment, safety and health be a priority. Today, we are requiring our contractors to perform (as in the case of Brookhaven). We have a new head of contracting and privatization, we are a year ahead of schedule for restructuring our workforce, and we are preparing our team to better supervise and execute major contracts more effectively. Major new projects, like the National Ignition Facility are on budget and on schedule, and we are making tough decisions on projects that were behind schedule.

We have developed a Comprehensive National Energy Strategy to address our growing dependance on imported oil and have made strides with new technologies like fuel cells that will make our nation more energy efficient. We will install one million solar roofs before 2010, and because of DOE's scientific resources dedicated to the Partnership for New Generation Vehicles, environmentally clean vehicles will soon roll off the production lines of our country. We've taken the federal government out of the oil business, selling the Elk Hills Naval Petroleum Reserve to the private sector for a record $3.65 billion. We have supported U.S. companies globally from South America to South Africa. The President tasked me to lead a Presidential mission to the Caspian Sea region to fortify our energy and national security objectives there; today we have a clear and credible strategy for multiple pipelines in this emerging, strategic part of the world.

We continue to support the American consumer with new appliance standards like the "fridge for the 21st Century" and we intend to secure $20 billion of energy savings with our proposal to bring competition to the nation's electricity industry. The President tasked us to reduce the $8 billion energy bill of the federal government and we have provided authority for $1.5 billion in energy savings contracts which encourage private companies to invest in energy savings devices for almost every department and agency in the government.

I am proud of the pivotal role DOE played to support the President's commitment to address global climate change. We developed a technology-based effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions which the President has supported with a $6 billion research and development investment over five years.

Our nonproliferation efforts have been strengthened. We have a solid Stockpile Stewardship program to support the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, we have certified to the President Clinton for the second year that our nuclear stockpile is safe, secure and reliable without underground nuclear testing. We are now in 53 sites in Russia and the Newly Independent States securing dangerous materials from falling into the wrong hands. Our strategy to dispose of excess plutonium is on track, and I recently attested to our joint work on this matter with my Russian counterpart last week in Moscow. We are working with the Russian government in a historic effort to convert ten formerly closed, nuclear cities into civilian enterprises.

Our greatest challenge has been cleaning up our own contaminated sites once used for our nuclear program. We have fashioned a national blueprint to accelerate the closure and clean up of numerous sites across our country, and we have made steady progress on opening the Waste Isolation Pilot Project and meeting milestones at Yucca Mountain for the ultimate disposal of contaminated materials.

The President's vision of American leadership in science and technology is being actualized in our national laboratories. Whether it was a DOE-supported scientist who helped discover water on the moon, our discoveries of the third form of life, and the third family of quarks, or our development of seismic techniques of increasing oil production, or our work on cancer research and the human genome, our scientists continue to lead the world in R&D awards and Nobel prizes. DOE is an engine for American technological innovation. I am proud that DOE has developed and operates the fastest computers in the world, and that we are on track to achieving three trillion operations per second this year. We have no intention of slowing down and plan to reach 100 trillion operations per second by 2005. New scientific tools like the National Ignition Facility in California or the National Spallation Neutron Source in Tennessee will ensure that the U.S. continues world leadership in these areas of great science.

As a science and technology agency, I believe that DOE has a unique obligation and role in supporting the President's goal of improving science and math performance of our youth by mobilizing our own scientists and technicians to help students and teachers across America so that we can produce the next generation of American scientists and engineers.

These are but some of the achievements we have made recently. While I have been the head of this enterprise, none of this could have been possible were it not for the extraordinary talented men and women of the DOE, their commitment to their work, and their love of country. I thank all of you for your great efforts and trust that you are as proud of your achievements as I am.

A number of friends have asked what I will be doing next. The answer is simple...doing my job as Secretary over the next three months. I will continue to work with the Congress on our 1999 budget, keep the momentum on the opening on WIPP, support the CTBT, encourage the Congress to move forward on comprehensive legislation to bring competition to the electricity industry, and support the President in the upcoming Summit of the Americas. We'll also continue the progress on management reforms across the complex.

It has been an extraordinary honor and privilege to serve in an Administration that is accomplishing so much for the American people -- including signing the first balanced budget in nearly 30 years, creating nearly 15 million new jobs, forging a government that works better and costs less, and demonstrating that economic growth and environmental protection can go hand-in-hand. I am humbled by the President's confidence in me by appointing me to two cabinet posts, and it has been my honor to have been part of his team.

In closing, I ask all the DOE team to keep focused on our priorities. I thank everyone for their support and I commit to a smooth transition to a new Secretary of Energy come July. Ellen and I have made many friends here and we hope to continue these friendships for years to come.

I'd be happy to take questions from reporters.


NOTE: In response to one question on BNL, Secretary Peña stated that he was "very pleased" with Brookhaven Science Associates, the new contractor at BNL. He said he based this statement on the response from the local community and local elected officials. He added that he expected to continue to see progress at BNL, and that all decisions on the future of the High Flux Beam Reactor would be made "in due course," consistent with Congressional guidance and his previous commitment to do a full analysis before making a decision.