Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Rick Perry and Department of Interior (DOI) Ryan Zinke met with their respective employees and delivered nearly simultaneous greetings on Friday, in meetings that were both friendly and, in many ways, folksy.
Perry quipped that organic chemistry dashed his dreams of becoming a veterinarian and "made a pilot out of me." Meanwhile, Zinke's dog ran among the crowd of DOI employees. "I knew I was going to be a popular secretary because we're going to make the building dog-friendly," Zinke joked.
But Perry soon turned serious and promised DOE employees -- many of whom were unnerved by acontroversial questionnaire circulated by the Trump transition team last December -- that he would be a "powerful advocate" for the department.
"Knowing and learning about what you do, and the potential of what we have in front of us, and the jewels that these national labs are, gave me this incredibly new appreciation about the DOE, each of you and the role that you play, and the importance of the commercialization of technology," Perry said.
Perry marveled at technological innovation in the energy sector, and the important role DOE plays in it. Hydraulic fracturing, he said, "literally changed the world."
The first governor in Texas history to win three four-year terms, Perry said that President Trump, while he was president-elect, asked him to "do for American energy what you did for Texas."
"It was really a pretty interesting conversation," Perry said. "We had been rivals. I said some pretty harsh things about the president. I can assure you he is a very forgiving man -- generally."
Perry urged DOE employees to identify "the hurdles that are stopping a lab from being able to address the next big thing that they're working on. Flow that information back [to me]." He also asked the department to find ways to "promote this extraordinary resource that we have, and making sure that the world understands that it's going to be American technology [that develops it]. A lot of the time, I hope that comes right out of the DOE. That will allow this country to be more secure -- economically and militarily."
At DOI, Zinke, a strong protector of public lands in the West, said "you can hear it from my lips: We will not sell or transfer public land."
Zinke said he wants DOI to be the most trusted department in government "because we hold our national treasures. We are the stewards of the future, and as stewards we have to make sure we're trusted. We need to be the advocate rather than the adversary.
"We're going to work hard as a team to make sure that we restore trust and to make sure we're embedded in local communities, and that the front line has the tools so they can make decisions. Those decisions might not be what headquarters wants, and they may not be exactly how I want it. But decisions are often best on the front line through collaborative efforts. The 'one-size-fits all' [approach] often times fits no one."
Zinke also addressed possible reorganization of DOI. "You might hear some rumors about reorganization -- they're true," he said. "The last time the DOI was reorganized was about 100 years ago, so the reorganization is going to be bold.
"Reorganization in the past has been to strip the front line, reorganize and consolidate. That's not the reorganization that we're going to do. We're going to reorganize to address the challenges that we see coming, and there are a lot of challenges. So think about what the DOI should look like 100 years from now, just as Teddy Roosevelt had the courage 100 years ago to organize for what our future is today."
Zinke also vowed to discuss DOI's budget with President Trump.
"I'm going to ask the president for infrastructure [funding]," Zinke said. "I'm going to fight for the budget. I looked at the budget. I'm not happy, but we're going to fight about it and I think I'm going to win at the end of the day. We need to make sure our values are articulated and make sure this administration understands how important it is."
Zinke won Senate confirmation on a 68-31 vote on Wednesday. The next day, Perry was also confirmed by the Senate, 62-37.