MITEI Director Bob Armstrong talks about the now-Secretary of Energy.
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Without question, it's the first thing people notice about Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. Parted on the left, cut only by his wife, Naomi, the long gray mop resembles Gene Wilder's in "Young Frankenstein."
"I thought, 'Here's a wacky scientist.' " That was the first impression of Elgie Holstein, former Energy Department chief of staff in the Clinton administration, who worked with Moniz at the agency. "And then over time it clearly became something of a trademark. It's perhaps a little neater now and grayer now."
Like Wilder's titular character, Moniz is prone to experimentation and risk...
...He presided over deeply researched studies covering a host of energy technologies as the executive director of the MIT Energy Initiative, or MITEI, which he started and ran from 2006 until joining the Obama administration.
Those studies allowed Moniz to do what he does best — dig into topics, develop analytical frameworks and reach out to people with a variety of opinions to arrive at common ground.
That's the kind of discipline he brings to Energy, said Melanie Kenderdine, Moniz's energy counselor.
"[Moniz] is an absolute joy to work with if you like to be challenged and work very hard," Kenderdine said. "I often feel like he is staffing us, as opposed to us staffing him."
Bob Armstrong, who now runs MITEI after serving as Moniz's deputy, agreed, saying the Energy secretary never asks anyone to do something he wouldn't.
"He has a clear idea of where he wants to go and getting people to buy in and adjust a vision," Armstrong said.
Where Moniz is going next is uncharted territory for the agency.
He created a new role for Kenderdine to execute his brainchild, the Quadrennial Energy Review, which he recommended as co-chairman of an outside panel to Obama. The project, due Jan. 31, is assessing the nation's entire energy infrastructure.
Policymakers often say the U.S. lacks a national energy policy. But experts agree the review, the first of its kind, could serve as a policy framework for years to come.
Who better to execute such a grandiose plan than a wacky scientist?
"Ernie has always been very motivated to do fact-based analysis to inform decision making," Armstrong said. "I think he brings that kind of approach to the quadrennial review. I'm not the least bit surprised that that's something he wanted to do."