Comptroller General Elmer B. Staats and J. Dexter Peach are beginning to sound like broken records - the more they look at the Department of Energy, the more problems they find.
Since the DOE was created less than two years ago, Staats and his General Accounting Office auditors, headed by energy division chief Peach, have conducted slightly more than 200 investigations of the agency's work.
Some of those inquiries were on energy matters in general, but most were about DOE activities specifically and most had similar conclusions: troubles abound in the big department and things are not getting any better.
Multiplying stories of bungled statistics, confusing and even illegal regulations, lost mail and variations on those themes have made the new agency almost everyone's favorite whipping boy.
It wasn't supposed to be that way. Sen. Charles H. Percy (R-Ill.) remembered last week that DOE was created "with the hope of reconciling the cross-purposes and contradictions" of earlier piecemeal energy programs.
But to hear James R. Schlesinger, the outgoing energy secretary, tell it, as he did at a recent Senate committee hearing, not much more has gone wrong than could have been expected in any new department.
Congress has created problems for DOE, he said. DOE officials in 1978 and the first half of 1979 made about 450 appearances before more than two dozen committees and subcommittees - time lost from tending the store.
Schlesinger's views notwithstanding, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, which played a key role in structuring DOE in those days of hope in 1977, is taking another look at what it helped craft.
The committee began a series of oversight hearings before the August recess and will continue them through the fall. A final report and recommendations are expected during the winter.
"The committee is coming from a general sense of uneasiness about what they created," said a staff aide. "One of DOE's problems may be the structure we set up - organization by function."
The thinking now is that DOE might have fewer problems if it were organized by fuel rather than by function - a solar office, for example, would handle everything to do with solar power, from research to commercialization.
But the committee's early witnesses, particularly Staats, stressed that DOE has not done well even in areas in which there should be little confusion.
Staats expressed dismay, echoed by committee members, over DOE's failure to take the lead in pushing the country toward energy conservation, a far quicker and cheaper tack than creation of a new synthetic fuels industry.
The comptroller said a symbol of the failure was the fact that an assistant secretary position for conservation and solar energy remained vacant during DOE's first year.
Staats said the department had closed its eyes to conservation even though Congress had directed it to act. He said DOE's failure was more notable within the government for not promoting conservation by sister agencies.
One of DOE's problems, committee members agreed, was mindset: A department put together from about 40 existing agencies was bound to magnify their attitudes and shortcomings.
Technology development has continued to get more emphasis than the less-flashy conservation ideas. Bureaucracies accustomed to being defensive about their constituents - different fuels and different industries - continued their ways.
The other thing, Percy said, is that "DOE has failed to inspire the confidence of Congress or the American people."
Schlesinger referred to a management study he contracted with Coopers and Lybrand, a consulting firm, after DOE's first year of operations. Schlesinger told the Senate panel he had followed up on many suggestions in the harshly critical study and had reshaped DOE management.
The study, however, also suggested that some of DOE's offices have no idea of what their mission is or how they should accomplish it - a situation that has led to helter-skelter decision making and crisis confrontation.
Schlesinger insisted that he had turned a hodgepodge of energy programs into a reasonably coherent whole in less than two years and then, as senators winced, gave himself an extra little pat on the back.
"The department has been a leader in the effort to reduce unnecessary regulations, cut red tape and involve the public in its decision-making," he said.
It was almost as if Schlesinger had been oblivious to the howls of outrage from congressmen, oil dealers and service station operators about confusing regulations, excessive red tape and closed-door decision-making.
Chairman Abraham Ribicoff seemed almost touched. "I'm coming down to shake your hand," he said, rising from his chair, "and tell you personally how sad I am you are leaving."