Arunava Majumdar, the head of the Department of Energy's (DOE's) Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), will leave his post next month, Energy Secretary Steven Chu wrote in an e-mail to agency staff members today. President Barack Obama had proposed elevating Majumdar to an undersecretary at DOE, but the Senate never confirmed the appointment.
"Under Arun's leadership, we have seen ARPA-E grow from a fledgling program to become a leading agency for innovation and energy research," Chu wrote in his e-mail. "Arun has recruited some of the most talented professionals across the country to join the ranks at ARPA-E and create programs that have the potential of changing the entire energy landscape."
Biochemist Eric Toone, a former professor at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and DOE's deputy director of technology for ARPA-E, will become head of ARPA-E, Chu wrote. David Sandalow, DOE's assistant secretary for policy and international affairs at the department, will become undersecretary.
Arjun's departure "is a kick in the stomach," but Toone "will keep the agency in good hands," says Barton Gordon, a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives who spearheaded the creation of ARPA-E in 2007. Gordon, now a lobbyist with K&L Gates in Washington, D.C., says Majumdar is a "good scientist and a good organizer who created a good bipartisan following [in Congress] for ARPA-E. I don't think people realized what a good politician he is. He's a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of guy."
Modeled after the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, ARPA-E is designed to funnel money quickly to high-risk, "transformational" efforts to develop new energy technologies. Since getting its first chunk of funding in 2009, it has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on technologies that ARPA-E's program managers believe are close to commercialization. The agency has won broad backing from industry, and has fared relatively well in the annual budget battles. This year will spend about $300 million on a wide array of projects, down from a high of $400 million in 2010.
Majumdar was not available for comment. But Gordon says Majumdar, who came to Washington from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, has wanted to spend more time with his two young daughters "for some time." Gordon expects him "to take some time to think about what comes next. He will have plenty of options." Majumdar will always be "a leading advocate for ARPA-E," Gordon predicts.
Majumdar, who has led ARPA-E for nearly two-and-a-half years, will leave 9 June, Chu wrote.