BACKGROUND CHECK: Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz

December 17, 2013
Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, in his DOE office on December, 13(Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)
Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, in his DOE office on Dec. 13 (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

When President Obama nominated MIT physicist Ernest Moniz to replace physicist Steven Chu as Secretary of Energy, he noted he was replacing Chu with “another brilliant scientist.”

But Moniz also already “knows his way around” the agency, Obama said, a decided plus these days. Moniz had been associate director of the White House office of science and technology policy and undersecretary of Energy in the Clinton administration in addition to being a member of the Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

He knows “almost more than any person on earth” about the agency, one observer said.

In a chat with the Loop he revealed, among other things, that it was soccer — he plays in a league — that truly helped prepare him for this job.

Which cabinet secretary would you most like to hang out with, and what would you do?

My wife Naomi and I enjoy spending as much time as possible in the mountains, hiking and fly fishing, so hanging out with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, an avid outdoors person, in the national parks, national forests and wilderness areas would be outstanding.

What’s your favorite non-work-related Web site/blog/app/magazine?

The Boston Globe Sports page.

Fill in the blank: People would be surprised to know that I _________.

…have played for a quarter century in the Over-the-Hill-Soccer-League in the Boston area, naturally progressing to the over-60 division where “hope triumphs over experience.” Playing defense all these years proved to be good preparation for some of my Department of Energy responsibilities!

What’s your dream job (other than your current gig)?

The job I had before as MIT professor, especially working with students on clean energy technology and policy. Second choice: Red Sox play-by-play announcer.

What motivated you to go into public service?

When I started my academic career, MIT President Jerry Wiesner, who had been science adviser to President Kennedy, and several senior physics colleagues made it clear through both words and actions that opportunities for public service were to be pursued as a professional and societal responsibility and as a way to enrich the relationship with students.

Favorite TV show?

My all-time favorite is “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.”

Which character from that show do you most identify with?

Taking a step from Monty Python TV to movies, the Black Knight in the “Holy Grail”: “It’s just a flesh wound.”

What subject, other than your work, do you know most about?

Physics, my professional discipline. By now, fly fishing should be up there as well, but nature always seems to point out how much more there is to learn.

Fill in the blank: I’m scared of _________________.

…the risks posed by climate change and by nuclear weapons in the wrong hands. Addressing these challenges is a big part of the DOE’s work and calls for continued American leadership and enhanced international cooperation for a long time.

What’s one word you wish people would use to describe you?

Problem-solver.

 You can draft one person in the private sector to come work for the federal government. Who would it be, and what would you have them do?

It takes a team, and I’d seek business, military and religious leaders who would together promote the economic, security and environmental imperatives for dealing with climate change.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.
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Al Kamen · December 13, 2013