The Office of Hearings and Appeals is the central administrative adjudicative forum for the Department of Energy. The Secretary of Energy has delegated to the OHA Director authority to act in many different areas. The OHA Director’s decision typically serves as the final agency decision.
During its nearly 40-year history, OHA has had broad-ranging subject matter jurisdiction. Originally, OHA’s primary function was to consider exceptions and other petitions related to petroleum pricing and allocation regulations, as well as Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Privacy Act appeals. From that point onward, OHA’s jurisdiction has evolved to meet the needs of various DOE programs, including those in the personnel security and whistleblower areas. In addition to its adjudicative work, OHA, through its Alternative Dispute Resolution Office, has been promoting the understanding and use of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) throughout the Department. Activities include a mediation program; a semiannual newsletter; training; and support for inter-agency ADR activities, including a series of regularly-held lunchtime training events.
Over the years, OHA has adjudicated appeals from a variety of DOE determinations, including those related to the Department’s Alternative Fuel Transportation Program; physician panel reviews of DOE worker occupational illness claims; payment-equal-to-taxes claims under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982; and equity interests in various energy production sites.
In FY 2020, OHA continued to conduct personnel security and whistleblower proceedings, consider FOIA and Privacy Act appeals, and adjudicate requests for exceptions from energy efficiency regulations. OHA also updated its internal desk references and provided training on its various areas of jurisdiction to other DOE organizations.
The procedures that OHA uses vary, depending on the type of case involved. OHA procedures are flexible and easily adaptable to new situations, allowing OHA to minimize “start-up” times and to produce high-quality work in new areas. OHA’s general procedures and those used for specific proceedings can be found on its website at /oha, under “Services.” In FY 2020, OHA published a final rule revising its procedural regulations. The regulatory revisions streamlined filing and adjudication processes while reducing costs for those appearing before OHA.
Ultimately, OHA’s adjudicative work involves more than resolving disputes. The decisions issued by OHA reflect the balancing of important and varied interests, including those of the public, the Department, industry groups, and individual litigants.