President Bill Clinton, inaugurated for his second and final term on January 21, introduced Peña at a press conference on December 22 as "an experienced leader and manager who understands the demands of a large government agency, who will demand peak performance from government contractors, who knows why we have to reinvent government and how to do it."
Clinton also stressed that a key mission for the Department of Energy will be to promote energy efficiency and environmental technology and said Secretary Peña "will work with the energy industry to create economic opportunity by using energy in a way that does not hurt our environment."
Peña has limited knowledge of energy. But as Transportation Secretary for the four years of Clinton's first term he is said to have been successful in increasing the global competitiveness of the US transportation industry, improving the safety of travel, streamlining the Department of Transportation -- by axing 11,000 jobs -- while investing more in America's infrastructure than any predecessor. He also helped encourage private financing in highway construction.
The Sustainable Energy Coalition (SEC), which includes the American Wind Energy Association, welcomed the nomination, which must be approved by the US Congress. In a typically diplomatic statement, the SEC in a press release noted Peña had demonstrated his ability to work with the environmental and sustainable energy communities. He has been an advocate too for the use of renewable fuels in transportation.
When Clinton was re-elected in early November, it was clear that O'Leary would not survive as Energy Secretary. The former utility executive had faced strong criticism for the cost of her trade missions abroad during her term of office.