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Energy Department to seek $600 million in budget cuts

By Steven Mufson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 11, 2011; 11:37 PM

The Obama administration will call for deep cuts in the headquarters staff of the Energy Department next week but will seek $8 billion in investments in the research, development and deployment of what it calls "clean energy technology programs."

Energy Secretary Steven Chu posted a note to "colleagues" on the department's blog site Friday listing about $600 million in cuts, saying that the department will take "responsible steps to cut wasteful spending and reduce expenses."

According to Chu's note, the budget to be unveiled next week will propose cutting spending on department management by nearly 13 percent, slashing the office of fossil fuel budget by 45 percent by zeroing out four programs, and cutting a hydrogen technology program by 41 percent. It will shrink the department's vehicle fleet by 35 percent in the next three years and eliminate funding for two relatively small projects at two national laboratories.

The $600 million in program cuts would be felt deeply in those sections of the department, but the overall budget request last year was $28.4 billion, not including funds it allocated from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Chu did not say what the total budget request would be this year.

It was also unclear what programs would fall under the "clean energy" category. The note did not make clear how the $8 billion of investments in that area compared with last year's figure, but a department official said it represented an increase.

Facing Republicans' calls for deep cuts in the federal budget, Chu said, "We're cutting waste and making government more efficient and effective."

The cuts in the department bureaucracy would save only $45 million, but they represent big bites from the existing budget. The office of the secretary would be slashed 13 percent, the office of human capital management by 22 percent and the congressional affairs office 40 percent.

The budget proposal would save $10.3 million by closing the Holifield Radioactive Ion Beam Facility at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. As announced in January, the department also plans to close the Tevatron, a particle accelerator at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, saving $35 million.

Chu said $418 million in savings would come from the office of fossil fuels, including an end to the Fuels Program, the Fuel Cells Program, the Oil and Gas Research and Development Program, and the Unconventional Fossil Technology Program.

His note also reiterated that President Obama's State of the Union address call to end tax breaks for oil and natural gas activities would save about $3.6 billion in fiscal 2012 and $46.2 billion over 10 years.

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