President Bush nominated Deputy Treasury Secretary Samuel W. Bodman yesterday as his second secretary of energy, tapping an administration veteran to lead the Energy Department at a time of unstable oil prices and rising nuclear proliferation concerns.
Bodman, 66, has held the number-two post at the Treasury Department since February. Before that, the Chicago native had been deputy secretary of commerce. A trained chemical engineer and former academic, Bodman came to the administration after a long career in the chemical and financial services industries.
"In academics, in business and in government, Sam Bodman has shown himself to be a problem solver who knows how to set goals, and he knows how to reach them," Bush said, hailing his nominee's "great talent for management" and possession of the "precise thinking of an engineer."
Bodman's nomination was widely seen as further evidence that the White House is tightening its grip on policy. Deputy Cabinet officials rarely move to the top spot in their own agencies, much less in different ones. Deputies generally manage day-to-day operations rather than formulate policy.
As with many previous energy secretaries -- a group that has included governors, members of Congress and others drawn from political posts -- Bodman has no direct background in the energy industry. Environmental groups and some energy industry officials said that with oil markets so volatile and other important issues on the table, they had expected Bush to name someone more familiar with oil or energy policy to replace outgoing Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham. Given the department's responsibility for the nation's nuclear arsenal, the president could have also turned to a nuclear weapons expert to signal an emphasis on controlling the spread of weapons of mass destruction, said Charles B. Curtis, a former deputy energy secretary who now heads the nonprofit Nuclear Threat Initiative.
During Bush's first term, Bodman was rarely in the limelight, with one exception. In the summer of 2003, he surprised participants at a manufacturing symposium by telling them the administration could offer little help to their troubled sector of the economy because "it is very hard for this government to have a vision on anything," and saying, "We are totally stove-piped, and we live within these compartments."
But by serving in three Cabinet agencies in little over a year, Bodman may personally break down some of the "stovepipes," said Dan Reicher, a former assistant energy secretary. Bodman's lack of experience in energy and nuclear weapons issues may be less important than his understanding of the Bush administration, Reicher said.
"All things being equal, it's extremely helpful to have someone who actually knows his way around the administration," Reicher said. If confirmed, Bodman will control a department facing a bewildering array of issues. Most of the agency's budget goes to researching, developing, building and maintaining the nuclear weapons arsenal, as well as cleaning up environmental damage dating to World War II's Manhattan Project.
The Bush administration has launched the first new nuclear weapons development program in more than a decade, a research effort to develop a low-yield earth-penetrating weapon that destroys deeply buried bunkers. The department's nuclear weapons laboratories continue to face high-profile security questions. Those research labs also lead the nation's efforts to secure nuclear materials in the former Soviet Union and prevent their spread to terrorists, a concern that Bush identified during the campaign as his greatest fear.
In energy policy, Bodman would be expected to help resurrect a comprehensive energy package first unveiled in 2001 that is meant to spur more oil and gas production, including exploration in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and offer tax incentives for clean coal technologies and alternative energy production. The president is also pushing development of a hydrogen-powered automobile.
Bodman would also be the government's point man on oil at a time when the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries is moving to production cutbacks to keep prices from sliding too far from their recent highs.
The Energy Department also shares responsibility with Commerce for most federal science spending, especially efforts to transfer government science to the private sector, Reicher said, adding that Bodman's chemical engineering background should suit him well in an agency that oversees billions of dollars in scientific research.