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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Academy urges major management reform at Energy

While the Obama administration is counting on the Energy Department to play a key role in addressing a host of national priorities, including energy independence and economic recovery, a new study by the National Academy of Public Administration raises serious questions about the department's ability to manage existing responsibilities.

In a highly critical report released on Tuesday, the expert panel conducting the study found that the department's mission-support functions, including human resources, contracting and financial management, need urgent attention from Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

The panel was especially critical of staff in the Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer, citing poor leadership, inadequate customer support and a lack of strategic vision.

The panel also found significant problems in contracting and financial management, but said the department had made important strides in addressing them over the course of the study, which began in early 2008.

In terms of financial management, the panel noted that the Office of the Chief Financial Officer had developed a more strategic approach to guiding operations than either the human resources or contracting offices. But the department is unique among federal agencies in that it allots appropriated funds to field office managers and field financial officers rather than the assistant secretaries that Congress, the Energy secretary and the public hold accountable for achieving program results.

The panel recommended that Energy change its budget process by distributing appropriated funds to program assistant secretaries and holding those executives responsible for allocating resources to the field.

NAPA conducted the study at the request of the House and Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittees, whose members were concerned about Energy's ability to adequately perform key management functions.

-Katherine McIntire Peters, GovExec.com

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