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How the U.S. conducts energy policy outside its borders has been a point of contention between administrations and congresses for longer than the Department of Energy’s four decades of existence. Due in part to the adaptive, evolving nature of domestic and international energy challenges and in part to a lack of focus in the U.S. government, the roles and responsibilities of the Office of International Affairs (IA) in the Department of Energy have changed frequently since 1977. This report, understanding that it can never satisfy the interests of all stakeholders, aims to first identify the strengths and weaknesses of the office and the Department’s approach to international activities and then, second, make recommendations as to how the office might improve.


Over the course of 25 interviews with former and current officials in the office, the Department of Energy, the Department of State, and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, five observations repeatedly emerged. They are the central findings of this report.

  • Finding 1. The ability of the Office of International Affairs to execute its mission is compromised by a paucity of resources, which stems mainly from a lack of interest in DOE’s international energy work in Congress.
  • Finding 2: The friction between the Department of State’s Bureau of Energy Resources (ENR) and IA reduces the effectiveness of U.S. international energy policy.
  • Finding 3: Friction between IA and ENR is not inevitable. Counter examples exist within IA itself in how it interacts with the Office of the Special Envoy for Climate Change.
  • Finding 4: The purpose and value of many of the hundreds of the Department’s international agreements are unclear, even to staff within the Department.
  • Finding 5: There is a strong divergence of views on how the Secretary should structure the Office of International Affairs. Recommendations In light of these findings, the report makes two recommendations for the next administration to take.


  • Recommendation 1: Constrain the office’s responsibilities and agenda to match the resources available. The office needs a bigger staff and budget to carry out its work effectively and increase its credibility in the eyes of other stakeholders in the inter-agency, especially the Bureau of Energy Resources at the Department of State. Since Congress will not appropriate these funds, the office must learn to do less with less; on its current course it risks a long term loss of reputation in the U.S. government and abroad.
  • Recommendation 2: Repair relations with the Bureau of Energy Resources. The tension between the offices is unproductive and fails to take advantage of the possible benefits of offices with overlapping but non-identical missions and capabilities.

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