WASHINGTON Energy Secretary Steven Chu told the House Science and Technology Committee that organizing a new R&D agency will move ahead on several fronts despite initial estimates that it could take a year before the agency is fully operational.
During a hearing on Tuesday (March 17), Chu also said the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E) will seek to identify emerging technologies that could yield "revolutionary energy systems and products."
A key issue is when the new energy R&D office will be up and running. In his testimony, Chu promised the House panel that "we will have this program up and running as soon as possible."
Asked for a specific timeline, Chu said a DoE team is studying the structure of ARPA-E. When the staff was asked by Chu how long it would take to get the agency up and running, "The first-pass answer was one year," he said.
Emphasizing to lawmakers his dissatisfaction with that response, Chu said he has requested a timeline justifying the initial staff estimate, noting that regulatory impediments could slow the process of building the new R&D agency.
Utlimately, Chu added, "I hope it would take much shorter than one year."
DoE funding for the new agency in the economic stimulus package signed in February and an omnibus spending bill for fiscal 2010 totals $415 million, according to the House science panel.
ARPA-E "will be a nimble, non-bureaucratic program at DoE to pursue high-risk, high-reward energy technology development," Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) said in an statement. Gordon also urged Chu to adopt a flexible approach to creating the agency.
Despite initial delays, Chu said DoE is simultaneously looking for an ARPA-E director along with key personnel while drafting solicitations for industry and university R&D proposals. "We are going to do things simultaneously," Chu said, adding that he hopes to start funding research in "significantly less than one year."
More details on ARPA-E may surface in April when the Obama administration transmits a detailed fiscal 2010 budget proposal to Congress.