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Md. energy policy director named as consolidation review begins

Maryland’s lead agency on energy policy has a new director just one day after the organization’s former director departed for a new job within state government.

The appointment of Mary Beth Tung, the former deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment, to the Maryland Energy Administration also could signal a potential for a merger of the agency and the environment department as Gov. Larry Hogan undertakes a review of state government in a search for opportunities to consolidate and find efficiencies.

Tung assumes her new role immediately — one day after the Department of General Services announced the immediate hire of A. Leigh Williams, who held the director’s position just less than a year.

The appointment of Tung comes amid the possibility that Hogan may seek to merge the energy agency into the environment department. Such a consolidation has been discussed among lobbyists and advocates for nearly a year.

In December, the Maryland Energy Administration offices were moved from Annapolis to Baltimore inside the officers of the Department of the Environment at the Montgomery Business Park.

Last week, Hogan named former state Sen. Robert R. “Bobby” Neall, a self-described “budget dweeb,” as a special adviser charged with looking for ways to consolidate or make government agencies run more efficiently.

Douglass Mayer, a Hogan spokesman, acknowledged that the two organizations share some common areas of interest but added that the moves don’t necessarily telegraph a future merger.

“There are no plans to merge these agencies,” Mayer said. “The governor has directed Senator Neall to look at finding ways to find efficiencies in government. That work has just started, and I have no idea what will come of that.”

Tung, who holds a doctorate in biomedical sciences and a law degree from the University of Maryland School of Law,  joins the energy policy agency from her previous position as deputy secretary of operations at the Maryland Department of the Environment, a $140,000 per year position she held since March 2015.

The salary for her new position has not yet been determined, according to a Hogan spokesman.

Tung inherits an agency plagued with a large number of vacancies. A legislative budget analysis found that 46 percent of the 30 state employee positions were vacant. A review of the agency website lists 11 vacancies including every listed position within the Energy Policy, Planning and Analysis Division.

Emily Scarr, director of the Maryland Public Interest Research Group, said the open positions are a concern.

“We need for our state agencies to be adequately staffed to be the cops on the beat to deliver on goals for energy efficiency, affordable energy, and environmental protection,” said Scarr.

Prior to joining state government, Tung worked as a biotech patent manager for the United States Patent and Trademark Office and as a patent agent or intellectual property manager for three different law firms.

Tung, a Howard County resident, ran for the House of Delegates in 2006. She listed concerns about the high cost of energy in a policy statement given to The Washington Post.

“We are caught in the uncertainty of skyrocketing energy bills, which is the most immediate and critical concern for Howard County,” she said in her candidate profile that year. “The bill approved by the legislature put off higher energy bills until next summer after the incumbents have been reelected and will saddle consumers with higher bills plus interest.”

Hogan praised the appointment of Tung in a statement issued Tuesday.

“In her new role, she will be pivotal in helping our administration promote energy policies that lower Marylanders’ energy bills, fuel the creation of jobs, and protect our environment,” Hogan said in the statement.