A lot of bureaucracies have been slapping their letter of the alphabet onto the ARPA bandwagon the past couple of years (HSARPA, IARPA). Late last summer, President Bush passed the America COMPETES Act, which included a provision to establish an Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy(ARPA-E). I think we should give the intelligence community all the cool new toys it needs, but I really think energy independence takes priority.
Bart Gordon, the House Science and Technology chair who shepherded ARPA-E along the gruesome path of "house resolution" to actual law, is also beating this drum. Today, at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Gordon had some sharp words for the people who are taking their sweet time establishing the new agency.
One of the issues seems to be funding. Congress has repeatedly voted to repeal between $13 billion and $18 billion in tax incentives for the oil industry, but so far it hasn't happened. "I don't believe the Federal government should be subsidizing an industry that is already seeing the highest profits on record," Gordon said. In the shadow of last year's oil company profits ($123 billion), $18 billion seems kind of anemic. But funding ARPA-E with that $18 billion would give it 6 times the annual funding allotted to DARPA, the original Advanced Research Agency. Just some perspective.