If Energy Secretary Rick Perry is preparing to leave to head the Department of Homeland Security, he isn't telegraphing it.
To the contrary, Perry appears to be enjoying his time leading the energy agency. "The coolest job I've ever had was to be the secretary of energy," he told staff at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Washington state Tuesday.
He has been on a nationwide tour of the Energy Department's fleet of state-of-the-art national labs. He said the tour is a third of the way done.
During Perry's time away from Washington, reports emerged that he may be tapped to lead the homeland security agency after John Kelly was appointed White House chief of staff. And even though he did not address those reports Tuesday, the impression he gave was that he is comfortable doing the work of energy secretary.
Perry told staff in Washington that he is continuing to put in place his team at the Energy Department. It "seems like I've been here years now," but "not in a negative way" although it has been an "onslaught of information as we've tried to put a team together," he said.
He also mentioned that he will be inviting energy delegations from Canada and Mexico in the fall to discuss a joint vision on energy for North America. Mexico is becoming increasingly dependent on U.S. crude oil and natural gas exports.
"We may be at the most important juncture when it comes to energy," with "America on the cusp of energy dominance" after being dependent on foreign sources of energy for "too long," Perry said.
Two former officials close to the Trump energy transition team told the Washington Examiner that moving Perry to DHS makes sense from the point of view that he originally wanted the president to place him at the Department of Defense, and Homeland Security would be a close fit.
But from his public remarks Tuesday, Perry seems to have found the national security piece of the puzzle at the Energy Department. In fact, his admitted ignorance at first of what the agency does appears to have blossomed into a deeper understanding and respect for the national security aspects of the agency.
"It's not just the things that you see every day, it's the safety and security of the world that you're working on," Perry told staff. "We live in a dangerous world, and you all and what you're doing is incredibly important."
President Ronald Reagan used to say "trust but verify," Perry said. "You're the verification. Your work saves lives."
It is a "complicated time" that includes threats from North Korea, Iran, and terror organizations that are "seeking increasingly dangerous weapons," he said. The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory works on areas focused on protecting the power grid from cyberattacks, as well as dismantling and cleaning up the leftover waste from the country's nuclear weapons program. It also has a nonproliferation role in stopping nation states and groups from acquiring nuclear weapons materials. A global security policy team at the lab looks at emerging threats.
He also noted that many Energy Department employees and lab staff are veterans. "Many of you have served," he said. "Forty percent of our DOE employees are veterans."
Perry also made remarks that indicate that he is committed to solving problems, such as the nuclear waste problem at the Hanford site in Washington that the Pacific lab helps manage.
"That's the kind of work that people expect us to do," he told staff. Perry has "no interest in kicking the can down the road" on the cleanup "and leave it up to the next administration. I aim to achieve real progress and clean this Hanford site up."
An emergency incident at the facility in May alerted the site to his attention. One of the tunnels that led to the plutonium production facility had caved in, increasing the risk of contamination. After the incident had been contained, Perry said he would work to implement a long-term strategy to address the waste at the site. He will tour the site later Tuesday.