The memo sent to the Energy Department on Tuesday and seen by Reuters on Friday, contains 74 questions including a request for a list of all department employees and contractors who attended the annual global climate talks hosted by the United Nations within the last five years.
It asked for a list of all department employees or contractors who have attended any meetings on the social cost of carbon, a measurement that federal agencies use to weigh the costs and benefits of new energy and environment regulations. It also asked for all publications written by employees at the department's 17 national laboratories for the past three years.
"This feels like the first draft of an eventual political enemies list," said a Department of Energy employee, who asked not to be identified because he feared a reprisal by the Trump transition team.
"When Donald Trump said he wanted to drain the swamp it apparently was just to make room for witch hunts and it's starting here at the DOE and our 17 national labs," the employee said.
Trump transition team officials declined to comment on the memo, which was first reported by Bloomberg.
Republican Trump, a New York businessman and former reality TV star who has never previously held public office, said during his election campaign that climate change was a hoax perpetrated by China to damage U.S. manufacturing. He said he would rip up last year's landmark global climate deal struck in Paris that was signed by Democratic President Barack Obama.
Since winning the Nov. 8 election, however, Trump has confused observers by saying he will keep an "open mind" about the Paris deal. He also met with former Vice President Al Gore, a strong advocate for action on climate change.
Contenders to head the Energy Department under Trump include Kevin Cramer, a Republican U.S. representative from oil producing North Dakota, Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat from the same state, and Joe Manchin, a Democrat from coal-producing West Virginia.
The memo also asked for the names of the 20 top salaried employees at the department's labs, and a list of all websites maintained or contributed to by lab staff during work hours.
A list of projects at the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy which funds research into high risk clean energy projects that could revolutionize energy markets, was also requested.
"They're certainly sending an aggressive signal here with some of these questions and they need to be careful," said Dan Reicher, a professor at Stanford University who also serves as an advisor to U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.
"I worry about some of the questions being sent that could unnecessarily alienate key career staff, because they need the career staff and lab professionals to get the daily work done," said Reicher.
The Energy Department employs more than 90,000 people working on nuclear weapons maintenance and research labs, nuclear energy, advanced renewable energy, batteries and climate science.
Two sources at the Environmental Protection Agency, where many climate regulations are formed, said no similar memo has been sent to that agency by the Trump administration.
Democratic Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts warned the Trump transition team about taking actions against any employees named in any response the department might send.
"Any politically motivated inquisition against federal civil servants who, under the direction of a previous administration, carried out policies that you now oppose," would call into question the Trump team's commitment to the rule of law and a peaceful transition, Markey said in a letter to Trump.