Retired Marine Gen. James Jones

Former national security adviser; co-chair, Bipartisan Policy Center’s Energy Project

An excerpt from Washington Post Live’s recent Smart Energy conference.

America’s energy policy today is largely the result of piecemeal attempts over five decades to answer tactical questions in response to contingencies and short-term market fluctuations.

Private energy companies invest far less to create new technologies than other industries, partly because the scale of investment is so massive — hundreds of millions and often billions of dollars. For this and other perfectly valid reasons, America’s private sector energy research and development investment constitutes only a tiny fraction of the total energy sales, approximately 0.4 percent, in contrast with more than 20 percent of sales in pharmaceuticals, 11 percent in aerospace, and 8 percent in computing and electronics.

Unfortunately, the public sector is not taking up the slack, even though there is broad agreement that research and development is a legitimate, in fact fundamental, governmental role. Federal investment in new energy R&D has been hovering around $3 billion annually over the last several years compared with roughly $30 billion that the U.S. government spends annually on health research and $80 billion on defense research and development.

I believe among our highest priorities must be reevaluating and reforming how the executive branch is organized to develop and execute energy policy. Our apparatus as currently conceived has no central mechanism to articulate, to coordinate and to be accountable for energy policies, strategy and goals.

This in part is due to the multitude of federal agencies and congressional committees affecting or holding jurisdiction over the energy picture. I would argue that a more central coordinating mechanism is necessary to sustain progress over time and, importantly, across administrations and congresses.

I think that we would benefit by having a senior director and a staff that are highly qualified and can be the engine that drives the interaction of energy in the nine departments that our energy finds itself spread out. It would be in the National Security Council.

I use the example of President Eisenhower when he decided we needed highways. A lot of people objected to that. . . .And are we glad we have them. I think what we need now is an energy highway.