House Committee Votes to Increase Funding for Energy’s DARPA by $2.9B

Bruce Rolff/

The House Science, Space and Technology Committee moved a bill to reauthorize ARPA-E with additional funding, as well as new restrictions and oversight.

The House Committee on Science, Space and Technology advanced a bill to significantly increase funding for the Energy Department’s bleeding-edge research office despite several attempts from the administration to cut funding for the program.

All totaled, the legislation would add nearly $2.9 billion to the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy over the next five years and insert safeguards to ensure the program isn’t duplicating research in other areas of government or the private sector.

“Too many good ideas are falling by the wayside,” Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, said at a committee markup Thursday. “And that ends up stifling the enormous potential of this program. H.R. 4091 addresses this problem by authorizing substantial growth and support for this agency over the next five years.”

The original bill submitted to the committee in July would have added $550 million to the fund in fiscal 2021, increasing annually until the allocation hit $1 billion in 2024.

Under a compromise agreement between committee Democrats and Republicans, ARPA-E would receive $497 million in 2021, increasing more gradually to $750 million in 2024.

ARPA-E was initially funded at $400 million, which was later supplemented by $180 million in fiscal 2011 and $275 million in 2012, rising incrementally each year to a $366 million in 2019.

“With this amendment, we’ll double our investment in ARPA-E’s high-risk, high-reward research over five years—but we’ll also establish important guardrails to ensure we’re using our limited research dollars wisely and efficiently,” said Ranking Member Frank Lucas, R-Okla.

Lucas noted the amended bill requires grantees to prove they have sought funding from the private sector before coming to the government. The bill also provides mechanisms to ensure ARPA-E’s work isn’t already being done in other research areas of the government—a concern repeated brought up by the administration, which has sought to cut funding for the program.

The Trump administration has repeatedly pushed to cut ARPA-E funding, zeroing out the office’s funding in each of its three budget proposals to date. The fiscal 2020 proposal included a request of negative $287 million.

Administration officials have called ARPA-E redundant, suggesting “the private sector is better positioned to finance disruptive energy technology research and development,” according to the 2017 budget proposal.

The amended bill includes a prohibition against duplicative research and requests the Government Accountability Office conduct regular audits of the program.

An additional amendment put forward by Rep. Bill Foster, D-Ill., proposed establishing a chief evaluation officer to “conduct systematic and comprehensive impact assessments of ARPA-E projects and programs.”

Foster ultimately withdrew the amendment, stating during the markup that he was informed ARPA-E is already in the process of hiring for this role.