What is the US Secretary of Energy?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 18 September 2019
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The United States Secretary of Energy is the head of the Department of Energy (DOE), an American government agency which oversees matters related to energy production. The DOE also supervises the American nuclear program, researching, manufacturing, and studying atomic weapons and energy for the United States. This agency has been in existence since 1977, when it was established by President Jimmy Carter.

This is a Cabinet level position, making the US Secretary of Energy a Presidential appointee who must be approved in a Senate confirmation hearing. As long as the US Secretary of Energy is a natural citizen who is not an Acting Secretary, he or she is 15th in the line of Presidential succession. As with other Cabinet members, the Secretary of Energy conventionally resigns when a new President takes office and she or he appoints a new US Secretary of Energy, typically choosing someone who supports the President's goals for America.


As a member of the Presidential Cabinet, the US Secretary of Energy must keep the President updated on issues which impact American energy, and the Secretary also discusses policy issues with the President. Because the US Secretary of Energy oversees the nuclear program, meetings with officials like the Secretary of Defense to discuss nuclear issues are also not uncommon for the Secretary of Energy. One notable Secretary of Energy was Hazel O'Leary, who served for four years under President Clinton as the first black woman in the position. The Secretary is supported by a large staff which includes a number of Undersecretaries who head up individual sectors within the DOE.

At the Department of Energy, the focus is on the generation, transportation, and regulation of energy in the United States. In the late 1990s, the agency also began investigating alternative energy and promoting consumer education, with the goal of making more of America's energy sources clean and reducing reliance on oil. The Department of Energy also deals with environmental issues related to energy production, and nuclear waste disposal.

This government agency notably devotes more funding to applied scientific research than any other government agency, in large part because of the extensive nuclear program, which includes lucrative contracts with the Department of Defense. The DOE also maintains a large fleet of inspectors who travel to energy production sites, along with researchers who analyze emerging technology in the field of energy generation and transmission, and staffers who work to develop more efficient technology.


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