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President Obama is touring the country and campaigning against the spending cuts under sequestration, such as cuts to energy research. The Department of Energy (DOE) itself has claimed that it may have to “curtail vital programs” and furlough employees in light of sequestration.

The Heritage Foundation has already identified wasteful spending and targeted ways in which Congress could scale back the budgets at the Department of Education and Small Business Administration. The situation at the DOE is no different.

The DOE is no stranger to wasteful spending. As Senator Tom Coburn’s (R–OK) Wastebook 2012 reports, the agency:

  • Gave away $100,000 in prize money for a duplicative mobile phone app that had already been developed;
  • Spent $489,000 retrofitting a 73-foot, VIP touring yacht in Los Angeles that regularly hosts Universal Studios’s screenwriters, members of the exclusive Jonathan Club, and dozens of the mayor’s interns; and
  • Sent $15 million to a Russian weapons institute, where it was used contrary to the program’s purpose in recruiting scientists for the weapons institute.

Waste and inefficiencies run deep at the DOE. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) discovered that the agency spends approximately $5 billion on redundant contractor-managed production and testing sites that could be streamlined to yield significant savings. The GAO also found 90—count them, 90—separate initiatives focused on “green” building that it recommended the agency consolidate.

Congress and the President have also squandered taxpayer dollars through so-called investments in green energy companies—which have failed in droves. Remember Solyndra? Or Beacon Power, Evergreen Solar, and Abound Solar, which also received millions—even hundreds of millions—in subsidies, yet filed for bankruptcy?

Federal energy spending has grown steadily in recent years, as Washington increasingly subsidizes programs for energy efficiency, energy supply, and technology commercialization.

Such a bloated budget parallels an ever-expanding mission at the DOE, a trend that should be reversed. As Heritage expert Nick Loris writes, “Congress’s ultimate objective should be to eliminate any Department of Energy function that does not support a critical national interest unmet by the private sector.” Loris explains that lawmakers could start by:

  1. Reforming or eliminating applied-research programs in Commercial Deployment and Technology Development (Savings: $3.04 billion);
  2. Ending or scaling back spending on programs in the Office of Science (SC), and returning the SC to its original intent (Savings: $1.42 billion); and
  3. Ending direct payments to the four Power Marketing Administrations and restructuring them to sell electricity at market rates (Savings: $85 million).

The private sector is far more efficient at providing for America’s energy needs than Washington bureaucrats and an endless stream of market-distorting subsidies. As history shows, when the DOE chooses winners and losers in the energy market, American taxpayers often are the ultimate losers.

T. Elliot Gaiser and M. Christian McNally are currently members of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.