DOE (United States Department of Energy)

DOE (United States Department of Energy)

Though many of its security and intelligence functions have been passed to a subordinate office, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the Department of Energy (DOE) is still the principal guarantor of energy security in the United States. It has the task of maintaining the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile, cleaning up the environmental legacy of the Cold War arms race, and advancing science and technology in the service of national interests. In addition to DOE's overall concern for global nuclear security, the DOE Office of Security works to protect employees, DOE contractors, and entrusted assets. Office of Security programs include the Nonproliferation and National Security Institute (NNSI) and the Cyber-Forensic Laboratory. DOE also has an intelligence office that is a component of the U.S. Intelligence Community.


Most Americans tend to think of DOE in connection with civilian activities—for example, its effect on the price of gasoline at the pump—but in fact it is one of the federal government's most significant security assets. Its roots go back to the Manhattan Project, the successful effort to build an atomic bomb during World War II. Though most of the scientists in the Manhattan Project were civilian, the governing authority was military. Thus, in 1942, the first full year of U.S. participation in the war, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers established the Manhattan Engineer District to oversee the project.

The war's end saw a heated battle in Congress over the issue of whether to place atomic power under civilian

A trauma intervention volunteer plays the role of a casualty of a simulated gas attack during an inter-agency emergency response drill in Portland, Oregon. AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS.
A trauma intervention volunteer plays the role of a casualty of a simulated gas attack during an inter-agency emergency response drill in Portland, Oregon.

or military control. In 1946, the issue was settled with the passage of the Atomic Energy Act, which created the civilian-run Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). In the early Cold War years, AEC put its greatest emphasis on the production of nuclear weapons, and on the development of nuclear reactors to propel naval vessels. A second Atomic Energy Act, in 1954, opened the field of nuclear power to the private sector, and AEC served as the regulatory agency for the new industry.

As a result of U.S. vulnerabilities in the face of the 1973 Arab oil embargo, Congress in 1974 passed the Energy Reorganization Act, which abolished AEC and replaced it with two other agencies: the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the Energy Research and Development Administration. As the energy crisis of the 1970s wore on, however, it became more and more apparent that the government could most effectively deal with energy issues by unifying energy organization and planning. The result was the Department of Energy Organization Act, signed into law by President James E. Carter on October 1, 1977.

The new department replaced not only the Energy Research and Development Administration, but also the Federal Energy Administration, the Federal Power Commission, and programs or offices of other agencies. (NRC remained independent.) At the outset, DOE took the role of providing a framework for the development of a comprehensive national energy plan. It also undertook long-term, high-risk research and development in areas that included energy technology, energy conservation and regulation, federal marketing of power, energy data collection and analysis, and nuclear weapons.

The period since DOE's inception has seen a shift in focus in view of America's changing needs within the global landscape. Faced with the energy crisis of the late 1970s, DOE directed its efforts toward development and regulation of energy resources. The arms buildup that took place under the administration of President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s saw DOE turn its attention to nuclear weapons research, development, and production. With the end of the Cold War, DOE entered a new phase, in which its emphasis was on nonproliferation, nuclear stewardship, retooling of nuclear weapons for peaceful uses, and environmental cleanup.

The DOE Today

Energy efficiency and conservation have remained focal points of DOE efforts, particularly in view of increasing tensions with and in the Middle East—where most of the world's oil is produced. In his 2003 State of the Union address, President George W. Bush, pledged $1.2 billion toward the development of hydrogen-powered fuel cells. Not only would the development of hydrogen power, long an area of research within DOE, free the United States from dependence on Middle Eastern oil, but it would greatly reduce the environmental impact of human activities, and provide an energy resource of almost limitless renewability.

Today, DOE accomplishes its mission along four principal program lines: national defense, energy, the environment, and science. DOE national defense programs, which DOE has continued to list as a top priority, have a fourfold purpose: to protect U.S. nuclear weapons, to promote nuclear safety internationally, to advance the cause of non-proliferation, and to continue providing safe and effective nuclear power for the operation of U.S. Navy vessels.

In the area of energy, DOE priorities include increasing domestic production, revolutionizing Americans' approach to conservation and efficiency, and promoting the development of renewable and alternative sources—including hydrogen. The environmental program overlaps somewhat with the national defense goal of cleanup of environmental and safety hazards left over from the Cold War. DOE is also committed to the safe and permanent disposal of radioactive waste. There is also overlap between the energy priority and a fourth program area, that of science, in which DOE's greatest interest is revolutionizing the search for, production, and delivery of energy.

Some aspects of DOE's responsibilities for national and global security are the work of NNSA, created by Congress in 1999 as a response to apparent security violations that occurred during the presidency of William J. Clinton. Though NNSA is an agency of DOE, its administrator, an undersecretary within the department, has direct responsibility over most of its functions.

Responsibilities of DOE and NNSA overlap in some areas. For example, both DOE and NNSA are concerned with nonproliferation programs involving Russian and other former Soviet republics. The purposes of these programs include the securing of nuclear weapons, elimination of excess materials, prevention of the outflow of nuclear expertise to other countries, and downsizing of the overall nuclear weapons complex in the former Soviet Union.

A particular area of emphasis in the DOE nonproliferation and verification program is the conversion of highly enriched uranium (HEU) to peacetime uses. In 1994, DOE agreed to purchase 500 metric tons of Russian HEU over the next 20 years, at a cost of $12 billion. The materials would then be converted to low enriched uranium and applied to commercial uses.

Emergency Operations

The Emergency Operations (EO) office of DOE is a joint mission of DOE and NNSA, created to administer and direct the emergency response capabilities of both. Focused on nuclear and radiological emergencies, EO is the principal DOE point of contact for emergency management activities.

EO develops policy for the emergency management of sites, facilities, and operations; manages the response to nuclear and radiological emergencies worldwide on behalf of the U.S. government; coordinates inter-and intradepartmental emergency management activities; evaluates and works to improve emergency response capabilities; and seeks to integrate programs, systems, assets, capabilities, training, and responses to improve emergency capabilities.

Offices of Emergency Management and Response. EO consists of two offices, the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) and the Office of Emergency Response (OER). OEM is charged with developing and implementing DOE's emergency management system for DOE and NNSA facilities, sites, and activities. It is responsible for operations and training, direction of emergency response exercises, development of emergency management policies, and support of DOE and NNSA site emergency planning and response.

OER supports both crisis response and emergency management through various departmental radiological emergency response assets or capabilities. It is responsible for the overall program management and organizational structure of EO in both emergency and non-emergency situations. OER also supports federal counterterrorism and consequence management efforts that have a nuclear or radiological dimension. In addition, EO as a whole represents DOE as needed in multiagency responses to nuclear or radiological threats affecting public safety and health.

Office of Security. Following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, numerous components of the federal security and intelligence apparatus came under scrutiny, and among these was the DOE Office of Security. In 2002, Representative Ed Markey (D-MA) released figures showing that the number of DOE security forces had dropped from 7,091 in 1992 to just 4,262 in 2001, a reduction of 40 percent. Political and intelligence analysts argued that these reductions were typical of the post-Cold War, Clinton-era reduction in security and intelligence resources, and after September 2001, DOE Office of Security director Joseph C. Mahaley worked to rebuild those resources.

In his role as chief functionary responsible for the development of policy regarding the protection of national security assets under DOE control, Mahaley gave a statement to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Budget on December 5, 2001. In his statement, Mahaley explained that, in accordance with the DOE Security Condition (SECON) system, the office had declared a level 2 emergency (SECON 2) on the day of the terrorist attacks, but had since dropped to—and stayed at—SECON 3, the highest alert level that could be maintained indefinitely.

Missions and priorities. The highest DOE security priority, Mahaley explained, is the protection of special nuclear material, or SNM, including everything from raw nuclear materials to complete nuclear weapons. DOE's nuclear safeguards and security program are directed toward preparing for a worst-case scenario involving the theft of these materials.

In addition to its mission of protecting materials and technology—including non-nuclear assets of DOE—the Office of Security also participates in the Technical Support Working Group, an interagency counterterrorism team headed by the State Department. The Office of Security had, at the time of Mahaley's statement, 550 trained counterterrorism personnel in its special response teams at 11 locations, along with 3,500 other armed officers.

Programs. Office of Security programs include NNSI, a training provider not only for DOE, but for students from more than 100 government departments and agencies. Founded in 1984 and formerly known as the Central Training Academy, NNSI is located at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Among its schools are the Professional Development Program, the Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation and International Cooperation Academy, the Foreign Interaction Training Academy, the Emergency Operations Training Academy, the Safeguards and Security Central Training Academy, and the Counterintelligence Training Academy.

The last of these, known as CITA, was established in May 2000, and offers instruction to contractor employees as well as federal workers. In addition to full courses, it offers seminars on subjects such as "Counterintelligence for Managers," "Economic Espionage: Protecting Intellectual Property," and "The Technical Collection Threat to Travelers."

The other major Office of Security program is the Cyber-Forensic Laboratory. Cyber-forensics is the application of science and technology to the discovery, analysis, and reconstruction of data extracted from any element of computers, computer peripherals, or computer systems. The laboratory assists DOE with the collection and study of electronic data relating to DOE security, or that of other government agencies and departments.

Office of Intelligence. DOE's Office of Intelligence (IN) is a member of the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC), producing intelligence for use both within DOE, and across the IC as a whole. Within the IC, the Office of Intelligence is the leading technical intelligence resource in four areas: nuclear weapons and nonproliferation; nuclear energy, safety, and waste; science and technology; and energy security.

The mission of IN within the IC is three-fold: to provide DOE and other agencies and departments, particularly IC members, with timely, accurate, and effective analyses of foreign intelligence; to make DOE's expertise available to the intelligence, law enforcement, and special operations communities; and to provide timely, specialized technological applications and operational support to those communities.

Presidential Decision Directive (PDD) 61, issued by President Clinton in February 1998, reorganized the intelligence structure at DOE. Counterintelligence and foreign intelligence functions were separated, and both offices were made directly answerable to the secretary of energy. The new counterintelligence director would be a senior Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) executive, and would have direct access to the directors of Central Intelligence and the FBI as well as the secretary of energy. In conjunction with the Office of Security, the director would work to implement specific security measures designed to reduce the threat to classified and sensitive information at DOE.

DOE operates a number of national laboratories that bring together scientists from a variety of disciplines to work on military and non-military related projects. National laboratory scientists have developed a number of technologies related to national security interests.



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Department of Energy Non-Proliferation Programs with Russia: Hearing Before the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, One Hundred Seventh Congress, First Session, March 28, 2001. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2001.

Rudman, Warren B. Science at Its Best, Security at Its Worst: A Report on Security Problems at the U.S. Department of Energy. Washington, D.C.: President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, 1999.


Carr, Rebecca. "Security at Nuke Labs Lax—DOE 'Indifferent' Despite Sept. 11." Atlanta Journal-Constitution. (August 20, 2002): A11.


Department of Energy. < > (March 7, 2003).

Department of Energy Office of Security. < > (March 7, 2003).


Cold War (1945–1950), The Start of the Atomic Age
Energy Technologies
Intelligence Community
NNSA (United States National Nuclear Security Administration)

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