Republicans Are Pushing Back on the Biden Administration's Infrastructure-Fueled Hiring Spree
Agency officials should share more details on a new corps of clean energy workers, lawmakers say.
The Energy Department is in the midst of the largest single increase in its workforce since it was stood up during the Jimmy Carter administration, but Republicans are accusing the agency of moving forward recklessly.
Energy is using funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to hire 1,000 new employees for its new Clean Energy Corps, a cadre of workers spread across 12 offices focusing on spending the $62 billion the bipartisan law allocated to the department. The corps will help industry deploy new clean energy technologies as the United States seeks to decarbonize the power sector by 2035 and the entire economy by 2050. Some Republican lawmakers, however, are raising concerns that Energy officials are dodging questions and failing to justify the hiring.
In a letter to Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, most of the Republicans on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, none of whom joined the handful of their party members who supported the bill last year, criticized the department for failing to be more forthcoming with hiring plans. Energy officials have declined to share how they came up with the total number for the corps workforce, despite repeated requests through letters and official testimony. Department officials told the lawmakers the 1,000 hires represented an “approximate figure” needed to implement the infrastructure law, but the lawmakers said in their new letter that they were “given no specifics on that staff assessment.” Energy added each office developed its own plan and those were reviewed by department leadership.
“While we understand this is a dynamic and ongoing effort, the lack of detail impedes Congress’s attempt to oversee the agency’s management and monitor the Department’s implementation of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act,” the lawmakers said. They called an update on the hiring process “long overdue,” given the department has moved forward with many elements of the law’s implementation.
Energy has created a campaign around Clean Energy Corps hiring, including an ad starring the actor Robert Downey Jr. and a panel discussion with Granholm to discuss the positions. The openings are for a range of positions, including engineering, IT, human resources, physical science, project management, communications and legislative affairs.
“Addressing the climate crisis will require a large, ambitious, and talented team of America’s best and brightest,” Energy said on its specific site for the corps. “To meet this challenge, DOE is hiring a team of industry veterans, experienced technical experts, and the next generation of climate leaders. We’re looking for individuals who are ready to act at this critical moment.”
Energy has so far onboarded 100 staff as part of the Clean Energy Corps, a department spokesperson said, and plans to hire "hundreds more" across various positions and experience levels.
"The Clean Energy Corps will be essential to hitting critical implementation milestones and ensuring DOE can spur the demonstration and deployment of clean energy infrastructure, lower electric bills, increase reliability and security, and create good-paying jobs," the spokesperson said.
Federal agencies across government are planning to hire for 8,000 positions to meet the demands of the infrastructure law, many of which will be filled using special authorities. Office of Personnel Management Director Kiran Ahuja told Government Executive earlier this year that her agency had launched a “big push” to help agencies set up strategic workforce plans and to get the new employees in the door. OPM created a special Schedule A expedited hiring authority to get thousands of climate scientists, structural engineers and clean water experts into agencies. While also working with individual agencies on their specific needs, OPM created a “talent surge playbook” to help agencies assess already available tools to quickly boost hiring.
Energy will rely on direct hiring to fill most of its 1,000 Clean Energy Corps positions, an authority OPM has granted to several agencies impacted by the infrastructure law.
While the Biden administration has highlighted its internal planning to prepare for infrastructure-related hiring, Republicans on the science committee questioned whether Energy was properly weighing its priorities. The Republicans, who may become majority members after the midterm elections, suggested they could withhold funding or authorizations in the future if the department does not provide more transparency.
“As we hear from constituents concerned about threats to our economic security and energy reliability such as a heightened risk of summer power outages, skyrocketing gasoline prices and evolving threats to our energy infrastructure linked to geopolitical conflict, we must fulfill our responsibility as legislators to oversee the department’s prioritization of its staffing needs and balancing of its responsibilities,” the lawmakers wrote.
This story has been updated with additional comment from the Energy Department.