Tracing the Replace-Schlesinger Sentiment

Sen. Alan Cranston, D-Calif., ordinarily is a soft-spoken person as well as one of President Carter’s chief congressional supporters. But two weeks ago he demanded that the president fire Energy Secretary James R. Schlesinger “at once,” calling him “ineffective, insensitive and at times an embarrassment to the president and Congress.”

Senate Democratic Whip Cranston joined the growing number of Democrats in Congress who believe that consumers need an energy secretary committed to defending their interests rather than swelling the already swollen treasuries of the big oil companies.

The case against Schlesinger is as oppressive as Jimmy Carter’s stubbornness in keeping him. Schlesinger has proven to be an extraordinarily poor manager of the Department of Energy (DOE), a consistent underminer of Carter’s own campaign positions on energy, and an unyielding bureaucrat when it comes to consumer participation rights in governmental activities.

Management was supposed to be Schlesinger’s strong suit, according to his promoters. Yet the Department of Energy’s ineffectiveness has become legion, as described in detailed articles in Business Week and the Wall Street Journal. Associates say that Schlesinger is not interested in managing the department and wouldn’t know how if he was. His principle passion is military affairs.

Mismanagement ranges beyond encouraging deep infiltration by the oil industry, beyond neglecting to fill key executive positions and beyond the gross nonenforcement of the law against the energy corporations. Schlesinger’s own inspector general jarred top departmental officials when he recently reported that the “amount of fraud and abuse in DOE programs now going undetected, unprevented and unpunished because of our present inability to develop a forward investigative strategy is large.”

On questions of energy policies Carter has supported Schlesinger’s decision to let the price of domestically produced new oil and gas be determined by the OPEC-Exxon cartels. This is precisely what decontrol of federal pricing ceilings means; there is no free market price for these fuels.

As a result, Carter, who wanted to be renowned as a consumer advocate, will be responsible for siphoning more tens of billions of dollars from consumers to Big Oil than Nixon and Ford dreamed of transferring during their tenures as president.

On nuclear power, Schlesinger shows how his lack of fortitude can replace his availability of analysis. I once heard him comment that an industry with a “lot of cash and momentum” behind it has to be taken seriously. Now that the crumbling nuclear industry is running out of both cash and momentum, it can still run on Schlesinger. A fervent believer in the electric atom, Schlesinger has remarked that he would feel secure sleeping right next to an atomic reactor–presumably in a nonaccident mode. And during a White House meeting with mayors, according to an astonished mayor, John Hutchinson of Charleston, W. Va., Schlesinger airily observed that he knew of no problem in handling nuclear waste.

If nuclear power has become Carter’s and Schlesinger’s first resort, solar and energy conservation have become the last resort. Much solar research and development spending by the department has been going to the wrong companies for the wrong prototype designs. From wind power to solar electric, the department’s technical choices for development seem destined to prove failure rather than a huge success.

Prof. David Inglis of the University of Massachusetts (Amherst) and Prof. Otto Smith of the University of California at Berkeley have raised serious questions at the orientation of these programs. But the department is too preoccupied with shoveling millions of dollars to large corporate contractors to listen. Schlesinger undoubtedly has spent more time lighting his ever-present pepe than working on solar and energy conservation policies.

An authoritarian, bureaucratic mind rounds out Schlesinger’s performance. Contrary to Carter’s own representations to Congress in 1977, Schlesinger successfully opposed Sen. Abraham Ribicoff’s proposal to lower the economic barriers to consumer participation in the new Department of Energy’s proceedings. In contrast, the oil industry has the money to be heard.

Schlesinger’s speaking schedule has taken him afar to business gatherings in Houston, Dallas, Palm Beach and New York. But he has rejected the request of citizen groups in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere to address them and respond to questions. He is not a man who relishes having his pro-big business practices cross-examined.

In the 1980 presidential campaign, Schlesinger will become a major campaign issue within the Democratic party itself. Carter is Carter’s image while Schleiinger is Carter’s reality–which is why the likehood is great that Schlesinger will be asked to find another job within a year.

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