Running for the Republican nomination for president, Rick Perry has been prone to flubs that raise questions about his suitability for the office. (Hey, at least they draw attention away from the truly epic scale of his corruption, as chronicled by Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone.) His worst may have occurred at the November 9th debate, when he expressed his wish to eliminate three federal agencies.

Apparently, though, he failed to write them down on the palm of his hand a la Sarah Palin and was only able to remember two. Fifteen minutes later, after referring to his notes, he informed those in attendance that the third federal agency he would target was the Department of Energy. In fact, he calls for its abolition on a regular basis.

Aside from strangling government in general, why is the DOE high on the list of agencies condemned by Republicans? First, it exists to advance energy technology and innovation, which includes wind and solar, of little use to a party dependent on the funding of legacy energy like oil and gas. Also, Republicans can’t resist kicking the dead horse of Solyndra, described by the Washington Post as “the now-shuttered California company [which] had been a poster child of President Obama’s initiative to invest in clean energies and received the administration’s first energy loan of $535 million.”

It’s true, as IPS’s Robert Alvarez informs us, that “since 1990, Energy has remained prominent on the GAO’s list of high-risk federal agencies vulnerable to waste, fraud, and abuse.” But Perry — or his people, to be more exact — seems to have overlooked a key function of the Department of Energy. E.J. Dionne explains at the Washington Post:

Would [Perry] scrap the department’s 17 national labs, including such world-class facilities as Los Alamos, N.M., Oak Ridge, Tenn.

Yes, the National Nuclear Security Administration is one of the Department of Energy’s divisions. Its stated mission is to “ensure the safety, security, and reliability of the nuclear weapons stockpile has been met through its Stockpile Stewardship Program.” Alvarez reminds us that Perry is not the first man who sought to abolish the Department of Energy while president:

When President Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, one of his first goals was to abolish Energy and eliminate the government’s role in the energy sector. But he was unable to kill the department because neither he nor his supporters could figure out what to do with the country’s sprawling nuclear weapons complex, a key part of Energy’s mandate. Ever since, nuclear weapon stewardship has dominated the department’s agenda.

Unfortunately my fantasy that shutting down the Department of Energy would deal a serious blow to the U.S. nuclear-weapons program is just that. More likely, the National Nuclear Security Administration would be privatized and wind up like Los Alamos and Lawerence Livermore Laboratory. At the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Hugh Gusterson explains (no link — behind a pay wall).

Los Alamos National Security (LANS), a consortium headed by the Bechtel Corporation with the University of California as a junior partner, won the contract [to manage Los Alamos] in 2005. A year later, it also won the contract to run the lab at Livermore. To boost profits, Bechtel increased the management fee tenfold, rewarding its senior LANS officials. The budget was static but costs increased, resulting in heavy job losses at the Livermore Laboratory.

In other words, a privatized nuclear-weapons complex would live on, but with even more mismanagement and waste than when a division of the Department of Energy.

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