Price of oil, price of freedom – Part II

Alex Beehler Contributor
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In my last post, there was a discussion of developments in mid-2008 that led to promoting energy security issues to certain prominence among policy and decision makers both within the Pentagon and within the Beltway. This post assesses what has transpired in the last two years and what opportunities lie ahead for effectively addressing energy concerns.

First, the general prominence of the issue continues in the forefront of the Department of Defense( DoD) policy debate. The military’s increased presence in Afghanistan assures that resource-related logistics challenges in supplying forward base operations have only increased in importance to mission capability and execution over the last twenty-four months.

The goal of 34% GHG emissions reduction by the DoD (the highest target of any federal agency), in response to mandates of President Obama’s October 5, 2009 Executive Order on energy, environment, and economic development, significantly raises the ante to meet the lofty standard through comprehensive energy efficiencies throughout the Services. In February, 2010, the latest Quadrennial Review of the Department (DoD’s game plan of top priority concerns to address over the next four years), included, for the first time in such a document, specific reference to the global strategic effects of climate change.

Secretary Gates has publicly vowed to address accordingly. Government funding from DoD, as well as from the Department of Energy, for alternative fuels research and energy efficiency building retrofits have increased significantly. Within the last twelve months, both the Navy and Air Force have held energy forums to highlight latest Secretariat agendas, advances, and challenges in the operational fields. More recently, in the midst of budget tightening, top DoD leadership has demanded the military components squeeze $100b over five years in waste and efficiency to be reprogrammed for systems acquisitions; much of the squeeze is to come from energy operations.

Thus, with such high stakes riding on energy improvement at DoD, much has been said; but how much has been achieved?

The results to date have been mixed. While general awareness has been raised and maintained across the military enterprise, a holistic, well-integrated top-to-bottom, field-to-command game plan is yet to be devised, let alone implemented. Reasons for the delay are numerous, and not primarily anyone’s fault.

First, it is the historic stovepipe structures of the Pentagon and military components which make quick and effective organizational realignment around an emerging issue like energy, difficult. (For instance, it took DoD at least fifteen years to integrate environmental considerations in acquisitions, procurement, and installation operations).

Second, the U.S. has been engaged in two wars and related aftermaths over the past decade; energy considerations are in stiff competition with other strategic concerns.

Third, certain policy expert officials in energy who were slated to be part of the new DoD political team were delayed in their arrival by the political confirmation process. For instance, the assistant secretaries of the Navy and Air Force who have the energy policy portfolio for their respective Service came on board in March, 2010; the comparable assistant secretary for the Army and the newly-created director of energy operations for policy and planning in OSD officially arrived earlier this month. These delayed appointments with the corollary delay in selecting deputies and establishing the new OSD directorate, further contribute to the drifting nature of energy policy throughout the Department.

While the challenges are great, however, the opportunities are even greater. With the DoD energy policy team now in pace, there is the opportunity to make the Department and the military services the responsible energy leader of our federal government and a significant positive force in energy use in our society.

This opportunity should include the following steps. First, develop a concise but comprehensive message that resonates with all ranks throughout the military: that they understand, believe in, and readily incorporate in their daily operations. Distilled to a bumper sticker, military energy use: “secures country, saves lives, and sustains resources.”  This messaging could then be reinforced by having the deputy secretary of defense sign out a comprehensive energy directive defining goals, visions, and delegated authorities. The military services and components would then have clear direction and responsibility to establish their own high-profile energy policy offices and the appropriate authority to commit funding and personnel resources necessary for implementation throughout the regional commands and field operations.

The creative, competitive talents under the highly successful Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency( DARPA) (founded in 1958 to encourage and fund new discoveries to help the U.S. “win” the space race) coupled with the Small Business Innovation Research(SBIR) program, could then most effectively engage the private sector, particularly entrepreneurs, to assist in addressing energy security issues with commercially feasible results.

To date, the Department of Defense has demonstrated “islands of excellence” in alternative energy and energy efficiency. DoD is now poised to become a “continent” of energy leadership, which long-term will help guarantee our country’s freedom.

Alex Beehler is the Assistant Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Environment, Safety & Occupational Health) at the United States Department of Defense.