Energy Secretary James Edwards said yesterday that he has begun reorganizing his department by giving much more authority to his under secretary -- even though that job has not yet been filled -- and that he will make a decision on DOE's future by the end of the year. He said later that the Ethics in Government Act is hampering his efforts to fill the undersecretary post.

Edwards told the Senate Governmental Affairs subcommittee on energy that the structure he inherited was "almost Byzantine in its complexity" but that he already had achieved "an effective operating configuration," even though none of his major subordinate officers has been named yet.

"The department was established by Congress and only Congress can do away with the department," he said. Asked about reports that his authority had been eroded through raids by the secretaries of state and interior, Edwards said he was working closely with both.

"Everybody around that Cabinet table is a team player," Edwards said, adding that he and Interior Secretary James G. Watt are "going to break loose some of those roadblocks to energy production."

Edwards said the position of DOE undersecretary has been redefined to make that person the department's chief operating officer, responsible for program development, with all information and field operation offices reporting there. Assistant secretaries have been reduced in number from 17 to seven, with all management, budget, contracting, personnel and technical functions consolidated under one management post.

The assistant secretary for environment has taken on the safety and emergency preparedness jobs, but defense programs will remain where they are. Studies on whether to transfer them to the Defense Department "all have concluded that the civilian management of nuclear weapons production must be maintained," he said.

Speaking later at the National Press Club, Edwards said he is "having a hard time" filling DOE jobs because "good men are assumed to be crooks or cheats" under the Ethics in Government Act. He said an unidentified executive with 30 years of management experience who was ready to join the government had found that it would cost him $150,000 a year because of the investment portfolio he had set up for his retirement. "We've got to reevaluate these laws," he said.

The secretary said he takes seriously the so-called sunset laws that require him to evaluate, by the end ot the year, the need for DOE. A report at that time will recommend "whether it should be dismantled or redistributed," he said.

Asked what functions he would retain, he listed the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, the manufacture of nuclear weapons, and research and development in long-term, high-risk areas such as nuclear fusion.