A Pentagon energy plan

The nation's top consumer of fuel can play a key role in reforming system

December 18, 2008|By Thomas M. Spangler III

President-elect Barack Obama's energy team is in place, and he has ambitious plans to reform the nation's energy system.

Where should he start? How about with the nation's largest consumer of petroleum - the Pentagon.

Historically, the Department of Defense and national security concerns drove innovation and inventions that have changed the world. The issue of energy reform presents a timely opportunity for the department to reclaim that critical role.

Mr. Obama has laid out a "Plan for Energy and Environment" acknowledging that our addiction to foreign oil undermines our national security. Since the Defense Department is charged with ensuring our nation's security, should it not lead the way to our nation's energy independence?

The Pentagon is as addicted to foreign oil as the rest of the U.S. A 2001 internal review by the Defense Science Board found that the Pentagon may be the single largest consumer of petroleum in the world. According to the Defense Energy Support Center 2007 Factbook, the department spent $11.5 billion on petroleum in 2007 alone.

That's why the Pentagon needs a comprehensive energy strategy linked to its budget process, technology development efforts, and acquisition activities. This strategy will have to address the disparate needs of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps and provide overarching budget recommendations on energy priorities.

While there are some energy reform efforts under way in the department, these efforts tend to be one-of-a-kind projects that never become mainstream. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates should implement a three-point plan:

* create a senior position within the secretary's office whose sole responsibilities are developing the energy strategy and overseeing its execution;

* establish a guideline for determining energy efficiency for all new defense acquisition programs; and

* initiate the Energy Innovation Research Program starting in 2010 to provide dedicated resources for alternative energy and research within the department.

Mr. Gates should immediately establish the position of deputy undersecretary of defense or assistant to the secretary of defense for energy efficiency and investment. This person's first task should be reviewing all the department's ongoing energy reform efforts and developing a comprehensive strategy to achieve the goals laid out by the Obama-Biden Energy Plan, which calls for creating 5 million jobs by investing $150 billion over 10 years to "catalyze" investment in clean energy. He or she would also serve as the Pentagon representative for all energy-related matters with inter-agency forums, the Department of Energy and the White House.

Most important, this position must maintain oversight responsibility for the funding and execution of all energy-related activities, including research and development efforts, to ensure implementation of the strategy. Rather than waiting until after a system is built and operating, an acquisition requirement - what the Pentagon calls a "key performance parameter" - regarding energy efficiency should be established.

Finally, the Pentagon, the Office of Management and Budget, and Congress need to work together to create an Energy Innovation Research Program that promotes alternative and renewable energy solutions. This would ensure that dedicated funding is available, using a funding structure similar to that of the Small Business Innovative Research program.

The Department of Defense uses top-down directives, making it a great starting block for U.S. energy reform efforts. There is no better place to begin solving our energy security issues than with the largest American consumer of petroleum and the largest organization responsible for America's national security.

Thomas M. Spangler III, an Annapolis resident and a senior civilian at the Naval Postgraduate School, is assigned to the Office of the Secretary of Defense. The views presented here are his own. His e-mail is t.spangler@comcast.net.

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