DOE Mad Science Wing Finally Gets a Director

On Friday, President Obama announced his pick to head the Advanced Research Projects Agency Energy (ARPA-E); Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory director Arun Majumdar.

ARPA-E, a high-risk research incubator in the U.S. Department of Energy, was signed into law in 2007 but languished for two years as funding and interest lagged. In February, the incoming Obama administration lavished $415 million on the fledgling organization.

So what’s next for Majumdar? The new director will need to be confirmed, a process that will take at least one month. By the time he is confirmed, it will likely be time for the house to adjourn for winter. In a report released in July, former HSARPA director Jane "Xan" Alexander laid out a roadmap for success for the new director.

ARPA-E was recommended in an influential 2005 report co-authored by Obama Energy Secretary and Nobel prize winning physicist Steven Chu, and signed into law in 2007. The agency is modeled on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), credited with developing the Internet. ARPA-E’s goal is to create game-changing energy technologies from high-risk research gambles. Other agencies have adopted DARPA’s framework, leading to the creation of IARPA (Intelligence) and HSARPA (Homeland Security). With a director who reports only to the Energy secretary and a lean core staff with a personnel cap of 120 directly responsible for all funding, such agencies award grants fast and is free of the bureaucracy that famously slows government to a crawl.

The plans are there, and the money is there, and now a new director is in place. My advice? The first step needs to be to get your own web site.
 


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