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DOE's Chalk: Managing Billions of Dollars in Clean Energy Stimulus Funding

Steven Chalk, renewable energy chief of the Energy Department
Steven Chalk, renewable energy chief of the Energy Department (Sam Kittner/kittner.com)

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From the Partnership for Public Service
Monday, November 16, 2009; 5:18 AM

At the Department of Energy (DOE), Steven Chalk has experienced the economic crisis as an opportunity, a chance to push energy efficiency.

A career public servant, Chalk manages the distribution of nearly half the $36.7 billion in economic stimulus funds Congress granted DOE this year -- money issued for home weatherization, energy efficient buildings, plug-in hybrid vehicle technology, solar, wind and geothermal power.

Chalk, the chief operating officer at DOE for energy efficiency and renewable energy, described the funding windfall as "clean energy on steroids." He said it could lead to the creation of new industries and jobs, lower pollution levels and less dependence on foreign oil.

"This is the biggest opportunity in the clean energy field in 30 years, and the best time to work at the Department of Energy," Chalk said. "We finally have the resources to make a huge difference and people will start seeing that in terms of green jobs and in homes and cars during the next five years because of the stimulus funding."

Chalk has worked to promote clean technologies and innovative approaches to the nation's energy needs for years, often against the odds and the prevailing political winds.

Now that he has the resources to make a significant impact, his job is to ensure stimulus money is properly awarded, that programs are operating according to plan and that taxpayers get the best value for their money.

He said his greatest challenge is managing a staff flooded with work generated by stimulus funds, or as he puts it, "keeping all the balls in the air at once without dropping any and getting the money out the door so it will get into the economy and work for people."

"Our motto is spend fast, but spend well," Chalk said.

Cathy Zoi, the DOE's assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy, said Chalk's knack for bringing together all of the components for a successful program is evident by his ability to work smoothly with career staff, technical people, lawyers, contractors, engineers and those of other energy specialties.

"Even when he is under pressure, he never boils over. He is supportive of the staff and knowledgeable, and knows how to get the job done," Zoi said.

After Congress approved the stimulus money last winter, Chalk was in the hospital for a back operation and Zoi said he remained entirely dedicated to his job. "Steve had a broken back in February, but he worked from his hospital bed to help us ramp up,"

Matt Rogers, a senior adviser at DOE concerning the stimulus spending program, called Chalk "a pragmatic problem solver." Rogers said Chalk knows what it takes to succeed in government and takes charge to get jobs done.

Chalk began his government career 26 years ago, as a civilian designing rocket motors and propellants for the Navy. He joined the DOE in 1990, working in the area of nuclear weapons before exploring solar and hydrogen efficiency programs, among other renewable energy initiatives.

During the Bush administration, Chalk served as deputy assistant secretary for renewable energy, and led an effort to establish an ethanol industry in the United States based on non-food biomass sources. He also planned and executed a federal effort to develop solar energy and drove government efforts to promote hydrogen fuel technology.

He was a vocal advocate in 2002 for federal research funding for hydrogen fuel cells, and initiated a number of other programs, including helping Greensburg, Kans., rebuild its community using energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies after a May 2007 tornado.

Chalk considers today's investments in alternative and renewable energy long overdue. "Even though it is unfortunate that we have to spend the money to help rebuild the economy and get us out of a hole, we are turning a problem into a huge opportunity," he said.

This article was jointly prepared by the Partnership for Public Service, a group seeking to enhance the performance of the federal government, and washingtonpost.com. Visit www.ourpublicservice.org for more about the organization.


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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