- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham is nearing the end of a successful term promoting the nation’s energy and nuclear security. In a period of unusual economic and political turbulence triggered by the September 11 terrorist attacks and volatile energy markets, Mr. Abraham assumed the considerable burden of pushing change in a large, unwieldy and scandal-plagued bureaucracy amid terrorist threats, rising oil prices and a holdover culture of security laxity that had engulfed the department in the 1990s. That’s not even mentioning the California energy crisis of 2001 or last year’s Northeast region blackouts. We’d like to point out how large are the shoes Mr. Abraham is leaving for his successor by way of his greater achievements the last four years.

Mr. Abraham’s most impressive achievement has been the unheralded work of quietly curbing nuclear proliferation across the globe country by country, facility by facility. In a meeting yesterday with The Washington Times Editorial Board, in which he recapped his tenure, Mr. Abraham pointed to his Global Threat Reduction Initiative as the vanguard of successful attempts to keep the nuclear genie in its bottle. It’s not hard to see why. More than 100 countries participate in those efforts, for which he has won the accolades of everybody from conservative Republicans at home to International Atomic Energy Agency officials in Vienna and top brass in the Russian military and in post-Soviet states abroad. For a man who, as a senator, called to abolish the Energy Department, that’s the very definition of turning lemons into lemonade.

Mr. Abraham’s work has been particularly impressive in Russia and the post-Soviet states, where he has helped ensure the proper disposal of old nuclear stockpiles and civilian reactor fissile materials. His most lasting legacy in that regard may be the pursuit of many previously uncontrolled or lightly controlled nuclear and radiological material. The latter are considered the likeliest targets for terrorists seeking “dirty bombs.” Before Mr. Abraham they weren’t on the Energy Department’s radar screen.

On national energy policy and the energy markets, Mr. Abraham deserves high marks even though his best efforts have been frustrated by political and economic circumstances. His advocacy for a sensible energy policy convinced many but couldn’t prevent the energy bill from remaining tied up in Congress. Nor did it do much to bring oil prices down to historical averages in the wake of the Iraq war and turbulence in the Middle East. The launching of hydrogen fuel and clean-burning coal projects will pay dividends in the future.

In 2001, Mr. Abraham inherited a large and unwieldy agency in post-Cold War drift. He bequeaths his expected successor, Deputy Secretary Treasury Samuel W. Bodman, something much better. Mr. Abraham led his agency with distinction and high integrity.

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