The D.O.E. has a program, for example, to provide low-interest loans to companies to encourage risky corporate innovation in alternative energy and energy efficiency. The loan program became infamous when one of its borrowers, the solar-energy company Solyndra, was unable to repay its loan, but, as a whole, since its inception in 2009, the program has turned a profit. And it has been demonstrably effective: it lent money to Tesla to build its factory in Fremont, California, when the private sector would not, for instance. Every Tesla you see on the road came from a facility financed by the D.O.E. Its loans to early-stage solar-energy companies launched the industry. There are now 35 viable utility-scale, privately funded solar companies—up from zero a decade ago. And yet today the program sits frozen. “There’s no direction what to do with the applications,” says the young career civil servant. “Are we shutting the program down?” They’d rather not, but if that’s what they are going to do, they should do it. “There’s no staff, just me,” says the civil servant. “People keep bugging me for direction. It’s got to the point I don’t care if you tell me to tear the program down. Just tell me what you want to do so I can do it intelligently.” Another permanent employee, in another wing of the D.O.E., says, “The biggest change is the grinding to a halt of any proactive work. There’s very little work happening. There’s a lot of confusion about what our mission was going to be. For a majority of the workforce it’s been demoralizing.”

Michael Lewis on Trump’s DOE


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