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Letter from Secretary Steven Chu to Energy Department Employees
Announcing His Decision Not to Serve a Second Term

by Steven Chu
Open Letter, February 1, 2013

Obama's Energy Secretary Steven Chu In a letter to Energy Department employees today, Energy Secretary Steven Chu highlighted the tremendous progress of the last four years, and announced his decision to not serve a second term as Secretary. Text of the letter is below.

Dear Colleagues:

Serving the country as Secretary of Energy, and working alongside such an extraordinary team of people at the Department, has been the greatest privilege of my life. While the job has had many challenges, it has been an exciting time for the Department, the country, and for me personally.

I've always been inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, who articulated his Dream of an America where people are judged not by skin color but "by the content of their character." In the scientific world, people are judged by the content of their ideas. Advances are made with new insights, but the final arbitrator of any point of view are experiments that seek the unbiased truth, not information cherry picked to support a particular point of view. The power of our work is derived from this foundation.

This is the approach I've brought to the Department of Energy, where I believe we should be judged not by the money we direct to a particular State or district, company, university or national lab, but by the character of our decisions. The Department of Energy serves the country as a Department of Science, a Department of Innovation, and a Department of Nuclear Security.

I have worked each day to move the Department in a direction where the political leadership and highest levels of career managers have the intellectual curiosity and wisdom to learn from the people who reported to them and where the subject matter experts - which should include managers at the highest levels - as well as employees at our national laboratories welcome their counsel and help. I grew up and matured in organizations where a graduate student or staff scientist could have a discussion with a company department head, a professor, a national lab director and be heard, not because of their rank in the organization, but because of the quality of their ideas.

I came with dreams, and am leaving with a set of accomplishments that we should all be proud of. Those accomplishments are because of all your dedication and hard work.

There are also far more tangible signs of success.

This portfolio includes:

In the last two years, the private sector, including Warren Buffett, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Google, have announced major investments in clean energy. Originally skeptical lenders and investors now see that renewable energy will profitable. These investors are voting where it counts the most - with their wallet. As one CEO recently commented, "Solar is now bankable. When solar was perceived as more risky it required a premium."

Through the Recovery Act, the Department of Energy made grants and loans to more than 1,300 companies. While critics try hard to discredit the program, the truth is that only one percent of the companies of the companies we funded went bankrupt. That one percent has gotten more attention than the 99 percent that have not.

The test for America's policy makers will be whether they are willing to accept a few failures in exchange for many successes. America's entrepreneurs and innovators who are leaders in global clean energy race understand that not every risk can - or should - be avoided. Michelangelo said, "The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark."

After the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown, other teams of DOE scientists, engineers, and emergency responders acted with admirable competence, commitment and composure.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the Department assisted FEMA to help speed the response effort. As the result of our collaboration during Sandy, FEMA has asked for the Administration to support the creation of a 24/7 energy emergency response center.

Despite this progress, the environmental clean-up projects still have considerable technical and project management challenges. As an example, the Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant at Hanford is the most complex and largest nuclear project in history. For the past 6 months, I have been working with six extremely talented people, typically devoting 5-10 hours a week that include nights and weekends. We have also been working intimately with a restructured EM management team to overcome remaining challenges. We have invited ecologists in the State of Washington to join in our frank discussions and the DOE team is rebuilding trust that had broken down over the past decade. I am especially appreciative of Governor Gregoire for her trust and support over the past six months.

This team will continue working with EM and Washington State for months and possibly years. The scientific, engineering and management reform of the Waste Treatment Plant will continue, and I am optimistic that many of the issues that have been plaguing this project for over a half a dozen years will soon be resolved. We are also bringing in the scientific talent and commitment of many scientists and engineers that will allow us to fulfill our obligations more quickly and safely. As a consequence of this renewed effort, I predict that our country will potentially avoid hundreds of millions of dollars in additional costs over the coming decades.

I want to conclude by making a few observations about the importance of the Department of Energy missions to our economic prosperity, dependency on foreign oil and climate change.

Serving as Secretary of Energy during such a momentous and important time has been incredibly demanding but enormously rewarding. I've been continually impressed by the talent and commitment of the men and women of this Department.

While I will always remain dedicated to the missions of the Department, I informed the President of my decision a few days after the election that Jean and I were eager to return to California. I would like to return to an academic life of teaching and research, but will still work to advance the missions that we have been working on together for the last four years.

In the short term, I plan to stay on as Secretary past the ARPA-E Summit at the end of February. I may stay beyond that time so that I can leave the Department in the hands of the new Secretary.

The journey that I began with you four years ago will continue for many years. I began my message talking about my vision of what I wanted to do with the Department. Some of those goals have been realized, and we have planted many seeds together. Just as today's boom in shale gas production was made possible by Department of Energy research from 1978 to 1991, some of the most significant work may not be known for decades. What matters is that our country will reap the benefits of what we have started.

It has been a great honor and privilege to work with all of you.

Steven Chu
Letter from Secretary Steven Chu to Energy Department Employees Announcing His Decision Not to Serve a Second Term
Open Letter, February 1, 2013

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