At Energy Dept. meeting, Perry tries to move past 2011 gaffe

How do you lead 13,000 people, a group that includes some of the most accomplished scientists in the world, who you once infamously said should be eradicated from the federal budget?

If you’re Rick Perry, who in his first day as Secretary of the Energy Department Friday gave a speech to employees, you get right to the point.

“Getting to be able to come to this agency is an extraordinary journey for me. I still get reminded on a regular basis of something I couldn’t remember in a debate on this agency. I think that was in late 2011,” he said in a speech broadcast on YouTube. “But I want for you to know what a powerful advocate you’re going to have in that corner office.”

Perry went on to explain how back in the Texas governor’s office after his presidential debate gaffe  – in which he said he’d do away with three federal agencies  including the Department of Energy – he had an epiphany while working on a partnership between a Texas university and the Sandia National Laboratories.

“I had a very cursory knowledge of the Department of Energy prior to that,” he said. “Knowing the potential of what we have in front of us and the jewels these labs are gave me a new appreciation.”

During a 15 minute speech at Energy headquarters in D.C., Perry promised employees he would have an “open door” and encouraged them to share their ideas and give him feedback. And he acknowledged his own academic record made him an unlikely choice for the job.

“My lifetime dream was to be a veterinarian, from a very young age… and organic chemistry made a pilot out of me,” he said. “Those of you who are extraordinarily brilliant scientists in those arenas, I admire you greatly.”

And ever the politician, Perry couldn’t help but offer a little insight into how President Donald Trump came to select him as Energy Secretary – despite Perry’s tough criticism of him during the Republican primaries.

“It was a pretty interesting conversation. We had been rivals. I’d said some pretty harsh things about the president. I can assure you one thing, he is a very forgiving man… generally,” Perry said.