Hazel O'Leary Generated Energy for HBCUs

Article excerpt

Despite the harsh Republican congressional attacks that marked a sometimes stormy tenure, departing U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Hazel O'Leary will be remembered for her efforts to transform the agency.

Largely hailed for her leadership by those in the environmental community O'Leary also brought about a heightened commitment to minority participation and diversity. It is no wonder that historically Black college and university (HBCU) officials are among O'Leary's most ardent defenders.

"She has done well. We are so proud of her," said one HBCU president of O'Leary.

O'Leary, who worked at the Energy department during the Carter Administration, has drawn much praise for transforming the once secretive and stodgy culture of the U.S. Department of Energy to one of openness. Charged with building and maintaining the nation's nuclear bomb arsenal, DOE had long thrived under military and civilian managers who were referred to as the "Nuclear Priesthood." O'Leary has said DOE's culture during the Cold War was to focus on building bombs with little thought given to the consequences of weapons production on the environment.

Early in her tenure, O'Leary set the tone by releasing previously classified information about radiation experiments on humans and the release of radioactive and chemical pollutants into the environment during four decades of nuclear bomb building. DOE's transformation has brought to center stage the agency's massive environmental cleanup efforts, which are based at national laboratories around the United States.

Under O'Leary's direction, DOE created the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity by combining the Office of Minority Economic Impact, the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business, and the Office of Civil Rights. While DOE's overall budget fell from $19.3 billion in 1993 to its current level of $16.5 billion, support for programs at HBCUs more than doubled. Current HBCU funding by DOE is nearly $60 million.

Although the seventeen-member HBCU/Minority Institution Environmental Technology Consortium got its start under the Bush Administration, O'Leary's DOE expanded agency ties to Black colleges and universities. …