Technology & Innovation

The DOE’s Proactive FY25 Budget Is Another Workforce Win On the Way to Staffing the Energy Transition

05.07.24 | 3 min read | Text by Zoë Brouns

The DOE has spent considerable time in the last few years focused on how to strengthen the Department’s workforce and deliver on its mission – including running the largest basic science research engine in the country, and managing a wide range of decarbonization efforts through clean energy technology innovation, demonstration, and deployment. In general, their efforts have been successful – in no small part because they have been creative and have had access to tools like the Intergovernmental Personnel Act and the Direct Hire Authority that supported the Clean Energy Corps. 

It’s no surprise then, that the agency’s FY 2025 budget looks to continue investing in the current and future science and energy workforce. The budget suggests DOE offices are thinking proactively about departmental capacity – in both the federal workforce, and beyond it through workforce development programs that actively grow the pool of future scientists.

Current BIL and IRA Talent 

As seen below, several DOE offices across the science, innovation and infrastructure domains have requested increases in program direction funding in FY 2025. Program direction funds are an under-valued but critical resource for enabling the energy transition: DOE must be able to recruit and retain expert staff with a high level of technical proficiency who can meet the multi-faceted demands of public service – reviewing proposals, building bridges with industry, maintaining user facilities, and overseeing execution of complex federal technology programs.

DOE OfficeFY 2024 Program Direction Funds (in thousands)FY 2025 Request Program Direction Funds (in thousands)Percent Increase from FY 2024-25
Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response$28,000$32,00014.3%
Grid Deployment Office$6,000$11,78596.4%
Federal Energy Management Program$14,000$17,20022.9%
Manufacturing and Energy Supply Chains$1,000$20,0001900.0%
State and Community Energy Programs Office$22,000$40,00081.8%
Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations$27,500$80,000190.9%
Office of Indian Energy Programs and Policy$14,000$14,0000.0%
Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy$186,000$194,7924.7%
Office of Electricity$19,000$19,7003.7%
Office of Nuclear Energy$90,000$97,0007.8%
Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management$70,000$97,00038.6%
Office of Science$226,831$246,0008.5%

These requests also reflect a larger strategy, motivated by the constraints put on federal management funding by IIJA and IRA. First, while those pieces of legislation poured resources into federal energy innovation, they also limited program direction funds to 3% of account spending, which was highly constraining from a talent perspective – even with the creative use of hiring mechanisms like IPAs and various fellowships. In the final energy spending bill for FY 2024, this was raised to 5% and extended the funds connected to IIJA funding from expiring in 2026 to FY 2029 – a much-needed adjustment to the legislation. 

Extensions to and increases in program direction funds are vital for DOE. If the levels of appropriated PD funds don’t match the programs and mandate of offices, it jeopardizes their ability to provide oversight, project management, and effective stewardship of taxpayer dollars. New program direction funding is similarly important for offices like the Grid Deployment Office, a new office formed from a combination of programs from IIJA and IRA and the Office of Electricity. The FY 2025 request includes a $40 million increase above FY 2023, including $30 million for a new microgrid initiative intended to strengthen grid reliability and resilience in high risk regions. The Office of Manufacturing and Energy Supply Chains is a more extreme example: because of its recent creation, it needs a sharp increase in program direction funds. In FY24 the office received only $1 million in PD funds, while its FY 2025 PD request is $20 million – a much more appropriate number to support the total office budget request of $113 million. These requests are important and necessary for the long-term ability of DOE to continue to fortify U.S. energy independence and innovation.

Future Workforce 

Offices are also focused on building pathways for early career scientists to grow their expertise. The Office of Science (SC), DOE’s central hub for basic science research and National Lab oversight, is a prime example. First, SC’s program direction funding is incredibly low for an office of its size and magnitude, and it has steadily declined over the past several years to less than 3% of the SC appropriations as of FY 2023. The FY 2025 request increase of 8% will help remedy this.

SC has also focused on increasing funding for their workforce development programs, and specifically the Workforce Development for Teachers and Scientists (WDTS) and its Reaching a New Energy Sciences Workforce (RENEW) programs. Both received an increase of $1-2 million – although one of WDTS’s other programs, the Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship (SULI), was reduced by about $1 million. For most of the WDTS programs, high housing and living costs are cited as a reason for the need for increasing support. These high costs have been cited as a barrier to workforce development at many of the National Labs as well. Congress should explore opportunities to be creative with stipends and program accessibility – to ensure that SC can continue to support workforce development at all levels.