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In August 2007, Congress authorized the establishment of the Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E) within the Department of Energy (DOE) as part of the America COMPETES Act (P.L. 110-69). Modeled on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), ARPA-E would support transformational energy technology research projects with the goal of enhancing the nation’s economic and energy security.
Proponents of ARPA-E contend that additional energy research and development (R&D) would help respond to the nation’s need for clean, affordable, and reliable energy. Opponents question whether ARPA-E is necessary to develop new technologies, when existing energy technologies are not fully utilized due to insufficient policies to encourage their implementation. ARPA-E proponents counter that that ARPA-E is needed to catalyze the energy marketplace by accelerating research, and doubt that existing DOE structure and personnel can achieve ARPA-E’s goals, requiring instead ARPA-E’s innovative R&D management design. Opponents of ARPA-E question whether the DARPA model is appropriate for the energy sector, and express concern that funding ARPA-E might redirect funds away from current DOE research activities, particularly those funded by the DOE Office of Science.
Congress authorized $300 million for ARPA-E in FY2008 and “such sums as are necessary” for FY2009 and FY2010. Congress subsequently appropriated no funds for FY2008. The Bush Administration requested no funds for ARPA-E in FY2009, and took no actions to begin its operations. In the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA; P.L. 111-5), Congress provided ARPA-E initial funding of $400 million which supplemented FY2009 funds of $15 million (P.L. 111-8). As a result, ARPA-E’s received its initial funding of $415 million in FY2009. The ARRA funds are available for obligation until September 30, 2010.
Now that ARPA-E has received its initial funding, concerned members of Congress might wish to oversee its implementation to ensure that it achieves its goals. Several management design elements to monitor include the timely appointment of a director for ARPA-E, recruitment of highly qualified technical Program Managers familiar with the DARPA process, maintenance of autonomy from DOE’s current activities, and sufficient funding and organizational flexibility. One concern is that the minimum number of scientific, engineering, and professional personnel required by the America COMPETES Act, 70, may be too high, at least in the initial stages, given ARPA-E’s budget of $415 million.
On April 27, 2009, the Obama Administration announced the “launch” of ARPA-E and its initial solicitation for concept papers due June 2009. DOE expects to award $150 million of its $415 million FY2009 budget in response to this solicitation. No information was provided regarding ARPA-E’s organization or staffing, or the amount of its $415 million FY2009 budget that will be used to fund those activities.
A policy issue for many congressional policymakers is the degree to which FY2009 funding, which includes both regular and supplemental appropriations, will influence FY2010 appropriations. This issue is heightened for ARPA-E, whose funding in the supplemental, $400 million, is greater than the $15 million in the regular FY2009 appropriation. The President’s budget request expected in May 2009 may help clarify the Obama Administration’s plans regarding the future of ARPA-E in FY2010.