Today, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry goes before the U.S. Senate for his confirmation hearing in the hopes of becoming the next secretary of the Department of Energy.
Of course, Perry famously derailed his presidential bid in 2011 by forgetting the department’s name even as he vowed to abolish it in a GOP primary debate. But, while the former governor may have been – and, according to a New York Times report, may still be – fuzzy on the agency’s purview, he is certainly not the only one.
David Hart, who researches energy innovation at George Mason University, says there are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to the Department of Energy (DOE).
“The biggest one is that most people think the department of energy mostly works on energy,” he says.
In fact, the department devotes much of its $30 billion dollar budget to maintaining and managing nuclear weapons.
“In particular, making sure that the U.S. stockpile of nuclear weapons will function if ever called upon,” says Hart.
The DOE also acts as janitor for the country’s messy nuclear testing legacy.
“The people that created that waste didn’t always know how to take care of it responsibly and the country’s been dealing with cleaning up after that mess for a long time,” says Bill Hederman, who just wrapped up three years at the DOE as a senior advisor and now teaches at the University of Pennsylvania.