The US Energy Secretary, Steven Chu, has likened his new job as being “dumped in the deep end of the pool.”
In an illuminating interview with the New York Times over the week-end Chu talked about the pressures and strains of his new job. “I didn’t appreciate how much of a public figure you become,” said Chu.
Whilst Obama tours the television shows telling pundits how much work there is to be done, Chu is tasked with delivering some of the most crucial ones, to “wean America from dependence on fossil fuels, rebuild the nation’s electrical grid and address the challenges of climate change.”
It certainly is an uphill struggle. Chu’s department cannot fill senior posts, including deputy secretary. He is also, according to the Times “struggling to get his arms around one of the most perplexing and intractable bureaucracies in Washington and to efficiently — and carefully — disperse $39 billion in funding from the stimulus package.”
The task “at times appears overwhelming, and some in Washington quietly wonder if Dr. Chu is in over his head.” But there are some who are wondering how much power Chu actually has when it comes to issues such as climate change.
For example, Karen Harbert, president of the Institute for 21st Century Energy at the United States Chamber of Commerce, told the paper that energy and climate change policy was being made at the White House by a small team led by Carol Browner, the former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. “Is he secretary of energy or secretary of research and development?” Ms. Harbert rather dismissively asked the paper.
Chu apparently sees his man task of “finding and financing the scientific breakthroughs that will end the nation’s dependence on carbon-based fuels and solve the climate change problem. ““If we don’t spend this money wisely and invest in new technology that addresses these challenges,” he said, “we will have failed the country. We will have failed the world.”
He may be a slightly naive scientist struggling in the political bear-pit, but Chu is the the man overseeing the new green revolution. it might be Carol Browner’s job to come up with an agreeement in Copenhagen, but Chu’s leadership could seriously change the technological direction of America away from oil.
Whether he can get his huge beauracry to move radically and quickly though could be the crucial factor. As he says: “In a bureaucracy, if you start something in motion, it either stops or gets derailed. You have to keep applying force.”
So, Mr Chu, may the force be with you….