ARPA-E: DOE Rope-a-Dope Ties Up Chu's Efforts on Energy Research

Jeff tries to explain how government works to readers of Science.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu wants to open the doors as soon as possible on a new agency within the Department of Energy (DOE) that's designed to identify and fund what he calls "game-changing" research. But he says DOE bureaucrats are foiling his best efforts to move ahead quickly with the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, for which Congress has allocated a whopping $415 million between stimulus funding and appropriations.

"The task force that I assembled to look at the issue told me that it would take a year to get it up and running," Chu told the House Science and Technology Committee this morning during a hearing to discuss federal energy policy. "I was dismayed by their answer, and I asked them to take a closer look and get back to me. I'm still waiting."

Speaking to reporters after the hearing, Chu said, "I want to set it up within 6 months, if not sooner." The slow pace has even made him consider other options for accomplishing ARPA-E's mission, he said, before adding that he would prefer to stick to the concept that Congress laid out in the 2007 America COMPETES Act.

The author of that language, Representative Bart Gordon (D–TN), is also the chair of the science committee. And he shares Chu's frustration. "Sounds like you're getting the rope-a-dope," Gordon told the Nobel Prize winner, who led DOE's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory before President Barack Obama chose him to be energy secretary.

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