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Should Congress Establish "ARPA-E", The Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy?

Thursday, March 9, 2006 - 12:00am
Washington, D.C.

Opening Statement By Hon. Bart Gordon

Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing today to consider the merits of the ARPA-E proposal. This proposal arose from a recommendation by a Committee of the National Academy of Science, National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine. The Committee was established at the request of certain Senators and House Members, including Chairman Boehlert and me.

The Academies were asked to look at what actions "federal policy-makers could take to enhance the science and technology enterprise so that the United States can successfully compete, prosper, and be secure in the global community of the 21st century." We also asked the Academies to tell us what strategy could be used to implement each of their recommended actions. The result was the Committee’s report entitled Rising Above the Gathering Storm, which was released late last year.

I have taken a different approach from the Senate in casting the report’s recommendations into legislative language. Rather than introducing a comprehensive package as the Senate did, I have introduced a package of three bills that are primarily in the jurisdiction of the Science Committee. My bills deal with those recommendations in Science Education, and Science and Engineering. The third bill establishes an ARPA-E organization within DOE.

My ARPA-E bill, H.R. 4435, has a very defined goal - to reduce imports of energy from foreign sources by 20 percent within 10 years through the development of transforming energy technologies. The Director of ARPA-E reports to the Secretary. However, the bill provides great flexibility to the Director in structuring and managing the organization to meet the goal.

The Rising Above the Gathering Storm Report was very vague in how its proposed ARPA-E would be organized and exactly what it would accomplish. I, too, am flexible in considering in how this organization should be put together and how it should accomplish meeting the 20 percent goal. I do worry, however, that overly prescriptive legislation could inhibit the willingness of smart men and women to join ARPA-E and the ability of ARPA-E managers to accomplish whatever goals are ultimately established.

Mr. Chairman, I believe this hearing will be a learning experience for all the members of the Committee. Today’s witnesses will bring us a variety of perspectives on how this organization should be put together and what it should do. I look forward to hearing their testimony today.

Norman Augustine, The Chairman of the Academies Committee, gave the Science Committee this sobering assessment in his testimony last fall: "It is the unanimous view of our Committee that America today faces a serious and intensifying challenge with regard to its future competitiveness and standard of living. Further, we appear to be on a losing path."

I trust that this is only the first of a number of hearings to address how the nation will remain competitive. All the outside studies we need are complete; now is the time to act - not only on ARPA-E - but on all the other recommendations in this Committee’s jurisdiction.

I look forward to working with the Chairman as we go forward on this important issue. I yield back the balance of my time.

Download the opening statement text.

Opening Statement By Hon. Michael M. Honda (D-CA)

I thank Chairman Boehlert and Ranking Member Gordon for holding this important hearing today, and I thank our distinguished witnesses for making the time to be here.

I’ve been in enough hearings of this Committee to know that most of us on this Committee, from both sides of the aisle, are on roughly the same page when it comes to recognizing that our nation is faced with significant energy challenges in the future and that science and technology will play an important role in addressing those challenges.

Where we differ is in the details. Some of us would prefer to see more solar electricity generation, others nuclear, and still others clean coal. Should we focus on hybrids, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, or liquid fuels produced from non fossil sources? I could go on all day listing all of the options that are probably supported by one member or another of this Committee.

The breadth of these short lists makes it clear that how we approach energy in the future is something we need to put a lot of thought into. Are we going to need to focus on research dollars in some very basic areas to generate new knowledge? Should we focus on bringing technologies that have already been invented within DOE labs but which are currently sitting on the shelf into the marketplace? Do we need to provide the private sector with assistance to overcome market failures?

Each of these approaches probably requires a different kind of program or agency to implement it. At this point, we don’t know which one we are thinking about, so it is essential that we talk about all of the possibilities. The ARPA-E model is one of those options, and I’ve cosponsored Ranking Member Gordon’s ARPA-E bill because I think it is an idea we should be talking about. I’ll admit that in the wake of a hearing we had about DARPA’s current directions in the area of computer science I’m a bit wary of creating another organization like it that might lose its way after being around for a long time, but if we take care we can design ARPA-E to avoid those problems.

I look forward to hearing from our distinguished witnesses today, including my friend and Nobel Laureate Dr. Steve Chu of Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, about their thoughts on the directions we should be taking with our future energy policy.

Download the opening statement text.



1 - Dr. Stephen Chu
Director Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
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2 - Dr. Catherine Cotell
Vice President for Strategy, University and Early Stage Investment In-Q-Tel In-Q-Tel
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3 - Dr. Frank Fernandez
President F.L. Fernandez Inc. F.L. Fernandez Inc.
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4 - Melanie Kenderdine
Vice President, Washington Operations Gsa Technology Institute Gsa Technology Institute
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5 - Dr. David Mowery
Professor Haas School of Business, University of California Haas School of Business, University of California
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Witness panel for the ARPA-E hearing March 9, 2006
(L-R) Dr, Chu, Dr. Mowery, Ms. Kenderdine, Dr. Fernandez and Dr. Cotell
109th Congress