Secretary of Energy James R. Schlesinger's control over the government's energy policies has been trimmed back, according to senior administration officials. In recent weeks, presidential adviser Stuart Eizenstat has been moving in, taking on a larger role in coordinating day-to-day decisions.
Senior officials stress that Eizenstat's role is "consistent" with President Carter's aim to have a unified energy program in the admininstration. But in any case, an interagency group that Eizenstat heads must give its approval to virtually every major Department of Energy policy action.
"There is no new development," declared White House press secretary Jody Powell. "It's a very natural sort of thing on an issue of this proportion."
According to another senior official, Eizenstat, the president's cheif adviser for domestic affairs, is simply "playing the role you would expect him to." This official added that "most of the agenda is still determined by what DOE's policy options are."
In actual practice, however, other officials say that since Eizenstat began convening the daily White House interagency meetings months ago, Schlesinger and DOE have been forced to defer more often to other agencies and other political interests.
"The existence of the 5 o'clock meetinsg means DOE has less of an opportunity to make unilateral decisions," says one official.
Another official said, " While it appears that Schlesinger is making all the decisions, the reality is that things are more spread out now."
Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill yesterday, there was an outcry about Schlesinger's Thursday news conference statement that he was hesistant to force the oil companies to increase refinery output.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) issued a statement saying he was "appalled that the secretary of energy believes that he is powerless to prevent the multinational oil companies from withholding oil." Kennedy has been a critic of Carter administration energy policies in recent months.
Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.), an avowed supporter of Schlesinger, told the Associated Press he has asked the Department of Energy whether Schlesinger has that power now and said he hasn't been able to get an answer. "The department should be given the authority if it doesn't have it now," Jackson said. He is chairman of the Senate Energy Committee.
In the House, Rep. Richard Ottinger (D-N.Y.) called for cosponsors on a bill ordering President Carter to use his allocation authority to take crude oil from companies that won's increase refinery output and send it to those that will.
Asked about a luncheon meeting Schlesinger had at the White House with the president yesterday, Powell said the question of Schlesinger's news conference remarks "did come up."
"The president's view and ours after reading the transcript was that some of the stories were grossly distorted," Powell said.
Elsewhere in the administration, however, another senior official said, "The tone of the (Schlesinger) press conference certainly did not reflect the administration view."
Most officials interviewed, however, stressed that there have been no outward indications that Carter has lost confidence in Schlesinger, despite the growing controversy surrounding the energy secretary.
At the same time, officials say that Eizenstat's new hand in formulating energy policy is partially designed to prevent actions by DOE from turning into unexpected political setbacks by having other agencies review them first.
Eizenstat's interagency energy group generally includes Assistant Energy Secretary Alvin Alm and Deputy Assistant Secretary Leslie Goldman; Office of Management and Budget Associate Director Eliot Cutler; representatives of inflation fighter Alfred Kahn and White House aide Anne Wexler, as well as from the National Security Council and State and Treasury departments.
Previous administrations have adopted similar tacks, pulling day-to-day control of energy issues into the White House during emergency situations.
Powell and other White House officials stress that during the 1978 coal strike, and the natural gas shortage in early 1977 when Carter first came into office, similar moves were taken to coordinate policy at the White House.
During the 1973-74 Arab oil embargo, by contrast, the Nixon White House gave Federal Energy Adminstrator William E. Simon broad authority to deal with the shortfall. The Carter administration is not disposed toward leaving total control in Schlesinger's hands, officials say.