Republican Lawmaker Proposes Increased Funding for Energy’s DARPA

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The legislation would fund the advanced research and development office for the next five years at increasing levels despite the administration's push to eliminate the office.

Despite yearly calls from the Trump administration to shutter the Energy Department’s technology research hub—the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy-—the lead Republican on the House’s technology committee introduced a bill to fully fund the office with successive increases over the next five years.

Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., ranking member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, introduced the ARPA-E Reauthorization and Reform Act, which would increase the office’s funding by $27 million annually over the next five years. That breaks out to $392.8 million in fiscal 2020, $419.6 million in 2021, $446.4 million in 2022, $473.2 million in 2023, topping out at $500 million in 2024.

“The gradual funding increase in this legislation reflects the fact that ARPA-E’s high-risk, high-reward approach to technology development has the potential to dramatically improve American energy and represents a tremendous return on investment,” Lucas said in a statement announcing the bill.

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.

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.

Lucas’ bill would ensure that funding for the office continues to rise and also rewrites sections of the America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education and Science, or COMPETES, Act, which established ARPA-E in 2007.

The bill would change the language of the office’s mission from “development of energy technologies” to “development of transformative science and technology solutions to address energy, environmental, economic and national security challenges.” It would also amend the office’s stated goals to include increasing national security by decreasing dependence on foreign energy supplies; reduce emissions, including greenhouse gases; improve technology for cleaning hazardous byproducts like nuclear waste; and “improve the resiliency, reliability and security of the electric grid,” presumably from cyberattacks.

In response to the administration’s concerns, the legislation includes language that would prevent ARPA-E from funding duplicative research.

“In general—to the maximum extent practicable, the director shall ensure that—(A) the activities of ARPA-E are coordinated with, and do not duplicate the efforts of programs and laboratories within the department and other relevant research agencies; and (B) ARPA-E does not provide funding for a project unless the prospective grantee demonstrates sufficient attempts to secure private financing or indicates that the project is not independently commercially viable.’’

The bill also requires ARPA-E to contract with a third-party auditor to conduct a review of the office’s activities within three years of the law’s passage.

“ARPA-E is meant to advance truly cutting-edge technologies to revolutionize energy production, development and use in America. To do that, it needs to be able to operate on the frontline of new research, focusing on transformational technologies that are too high-risk for industry investment,” Lucas said. “This bill empowers ARPA-E to work exclusively on this kind of disruptive innovation, ensuring its resources aren’t being drained by duplicative research or technology that could be better developed by private industry.”