President Ford yesterday Proposed a Department of Energy that would bring together six federal agencies with a budget of $7.1 billion, a staff of 23,000 people and a Cabinet officer as its head.
Ford asked Congress to create a department that would combine the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Federal Energy Administration, the Federal Power Commission and three lesser energy-relected divisions of other federal agencies. They are the Bureau of Mines and the power marketing divisions of the Interior Department and the Rural Electrification Administration, now in the Agriculture Department.
The Ford plan to reorganize the federal energy structure differs in several respects from one announced during the campaigns by President elect Jimmy Carter.
The Carter energy plan would leave the Bureau of Mines in the Interior Departmen and the Rural Electrification Administration in Agriculture.
Carter's proposal would include some energy functios of the Commerce and Treasury departments, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Interstate Commerce Comission and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Ford would not include the energy activities of these agencies; the White House staff felt these functions were irrelevant or too small to fit into the new Energy Department.
Both the Ford and Carter plans leave out the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which the Ford administration said must deal mostly with health and safety matters that must be separated from the overall mission of an Energy Department - deciding now best to supply the nation with an adequate mix of fuels.
At a White House briefing, Commerce Secretary Elliot L. Richardson said the Ford energy plan had been under study since last April, when Congress directed the White House to submit an energy reorganization proposal by Dec. 31.
"We're a little late with out deadline," Richardson said, "bit what this plan does is to give the kind of permanent attention to the energy picture which it needs. I think this plan make inherently good sense."
Richardson conceded that the Ford administration made no "deliberate attempt to coordinate" it approach with Carter's but he pointed out that a draft copy of an early plan was sent to Carter during the presidential campaign.
"I don't think the Carter staff expected to be consulted," Rhichardson went on. "The mandate for this plan rests with President Ford and his advisers to do this. The Carter administration can do what it pleases when it enters office."
Ford aides say their plan reflects a belief that energy is now the most important single domestic issue confronting the country. Said one White House staffer: "Energy is so all-pervasive and basic to security that it ought to have Cabinet level status."
Privately; White House aides said the two most important proposals were to continue Interior Department control over the leasing of federal oil, gas and coal lands and to bring the Federal Power Commission into the Energy Department.
No less than 40 per cent of the U.S. oil, gas and coal reserves lie under federal lands. This raised the question of whether to take jurisdiction over the reserves away from interior and give it to Energy.
"We decided these assets ought to be the trust of a neutral custodian," a White House aide said, "where wild-life, recreation and wilderness claimants come in and make a case for its use the same way an energy claimant can."
Inclusion of the FPC in the Ford Energy Department reflects FPC's current split in functions. The FPC now decides how much natural gas can be imported, who should get the import licenses, and who can be cut off from supplies of domestic gas.
The Ford plan proposed a Regulatory Appeals Board that would decide separately who would be licensed to import gas and who would suffer curtailments in a domestic gas shortage.
The three main components of Ford's Energy Department would be identical to Carter's plan. They involve merging ERDA, the FEA and the FPC, ERDA, decides which energy technology gets pushed ahead, the FEA decides what conversation measures get promoted and regulates the price and production of oil, and the FPC regulates the price and production of natural gas.
The Ford administration proposed to cut 18 executive-level jobs out of the six agencies it would merge. It also said the Civil Service Commission should study whether 692 "supergrade" positions (at $39,600 a year) in the six agencies can be pared.