Prior to the 1973 energy crisis, President Richard Nixon had suggested that the United States adopt a comprehensive program consolidating energy-related policy that was distributed among a wide variety of federal agencies. He believed that the bureaucracy was ineffective in responding to the country’s needs. Initiating the 1973 oil embargo against Israel’s allies, the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries provided justification for Nixon’s advice to Congress.1
Foreign oil accounted for 37% of domestic demand when President Gerald Ford entered office, and the price was rising as a result of the embargo. “The cost of that foreign oil, only $3 billion in 1970, had skyrocketed past $25 billion by 1974 and was expected to top $30 billion soon,” said the president, describing America’s growing energy crisis.2
“There was never a moment when I did not consider the creation of a national energy policy equal in importance to any other goal we had,” Ford’s successor, Jimmy Carter, said of his belief that the energy crisis should be solved with an effort that was “the moral equivalent of war.” Having worked to consolidate state agencies, Carter wanted to do the same with energy policy. Thirty three years ago today, Nixon’s suggestion finally became a reality with legislation signed by Carter that created a cabinet-level Department of Energy.3
The oil embargo and subsequent energy crisis might provide potential insights for our present time, with a recent report from the Department of Energy warning of long-known security lapses under the Obama administration that are making the electricity grid in the United States vulnerable to computer attacks by cyber-spies.4
1. W. Craig Bledsoe and Leslie Rigby, “ The Cabinet and Executive Departments,” in Guide to the Presidency, Second Edition, 2 vols., ed. Michael Nelson (Washington: CQ Press, 1996), 1180. Eric Foner and John A. Garraty, eds., The Reader’s Companion to American History (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1991), 809-810.
2. Gerald R. Ford, A Time to Heal: The Autobiography of Gerald R. Ford (New York: Harper & Row, 1979), 228.
3. Jimmy Carter, Keeping Faith: Memoirs of a President (New York: Bantam, 1982), 69. Ibid., 91-98. Bledsoe and Rigby, Guide to the Presidency, 1180.
4. Siobhan Gorman, “Grid is Vulnerable to Cyber-Attacks, “The Wall Street Journal,” August 3, 2010, U.S. News.