House Passes FY 2011 DOE Funding Bill – With Amendments

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Publication date: 
25 July 2011

By  a one vote margin, the House of Representatives agreed to increase ARPA-E  funding by $79.6 million over the original committee version of the FY 2012  Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill.  Under this amendment offered by Rep. Adam  Schiff (D-CA), ARPA-E funding would be maintained at its current level.

Schiff’s  amendment was one of eighteen amendments considered by the House of direct  interest to the physics community.  Other  amendments would have increased or eliminated ARPA-E funding, reduced spending  on DOE’s nuclear energy and weapons programs, reduced or increased funding for  the Office of Science, and increased funding for the review of the Yucca  Mountain nuclear waste repository.  This  FYI will highlight Schiff’s and other amendments related to ARPA-E.  A future FYI will review amendments related  to the Office of Science.

Schiff’s  amendment was one of several the House considered on ARPA-E.  An amendment offered by Rep. John Garamendi  (D-CA) would have reduced the FY 2012 budget for fossil fuels by $450 million  and increased ARPA-E by the same amount.   This amendment failed by a vote of 145-276.

Schiff’s  amendment, also offered by Rep. Charles Bass (R-NH) and Rep. Marcia Fudge  (D-OH), would increase ARPA-E funding by $79,640,000, offsetting it by a  reduction of the same amount for DOE’s administration account.  In describing the amendment, Schiff told the  House:

“[M]y  amendment as offered by my colleagues, Representative Bass and Representative  Fudge, would simply restore ARPA-E funding to the fiscal year 2011 level of  $179.6 million.

“ARPA-E  was created in 2009 to bring the kind of innovative thinking that is well known  at DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, to the energy sector.  That includes a focus on high-risk, high-reward R&D and a quick-moving  culture made up of experts who stay for just a few years to ensure that new  ideas are continually being brought forward. Unlike some government agencies,  its philosophy, much like a tech start-up, is to hire the best technical staff  and then hire the managers and leadership that can get the best out of them.

“This  reinvention of the way that government does business is something that we  should be encouraging. A leaner approach adopted from the private sector, with  a more agile leadership and the mandate to cut underperforming research  avenues, is exactly what the Department of Energy needs. The American Energy  Innovation Council, made up of CEOs and chairmen of some of America's biggest  companies, including Bill Gates, Norm Augustine and Jeff Immelt, have proposed  spending $1 billion a year on ARPA-E, seeing it as a vital part of our energy  future. This bill provides just $100 million, so they endorsed a version of  this amendment in the Appropriations Committee.        “I  recognize that we have a serious deficit problem as a member of the Blue Dog  Coalition, and we need to deal with it. But as we make the difficult choices to  do that, I don't believe that as we emerge from a recession that we should cut  the innovative research that makes America great and has fueled our economic  growth for generations.

“Energy  is not just an economic issue, of course. It is also a national security issue.  Some of our ARPA-E's research may help us cut down on fuel convoys in  Afghanistan, and every bit of energy independence protects us from even higher  energy prices driven by either instability in the Middle East or skyrocketing  demand from China.

“More  than 50 universities, venture capital firms and professional societies - the  Association of American Universities and the Association of Public and  Land-grant Universities - have signed a letter in support of increasing ARPA-E  funding. They and I hope that we will provide the funds that ARPA-E needs to  continue to do the research that will change our world, not today, but tomorrow  and for decades to come.

“This  amendment offsets the increase with a cut to the departmental administration  account. As many people have noted, the Department of Energy has a serious  management problem, and perhaps cutting this account will send a message that a  new approach is needed.

“But  this invests in our future. Energy is a national security issue, it's an  economic imperative, it's a health issue, and it's an environmental issue; and  to invest in this kind of cutting-edge research in a reinvention-of-government  kind of an agency is exactly the direction we should go. It's a proven approach  that has been proven in the Defense Department with DARPA. It can work here in  Energy. It's off to a very promising start, developing new battery technologies  where we can lead the development of new batteries for electric vehicles for  another generation.

“I  was very moved by a speech from a CEO of Google about a year ago, and he talked  about how the revolution in energy that is just beginning will dwarf the  revolution we have just come through in telecommunications because energy is a  far bigger sector of our economy. We want to lead that energy revolution. If we  do, the benefits to our economic development will be enormous, just as they  were in terms of the telecommunications revolution. We don't want to see this  leadership go to China, India or any other nation. But if we're serious about  it, we need to invest in cutting-edge research. That's exactly what ARPA-E  does.   I urge this Congress not to cut back on the  Nation's future, but to support the innovative work being done by ARPA-E.”

Rep.  Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) is the chairman of the House Energy and Water  Development Appropriations Subcommittee.   Rep. Peter Visclosky (D-IN) is the subcommittee’s Ranking Member.  Both opposed Schiff’s amendment, as they had  when Schiff tried to increase ARPA-E’s funding when the bill was considered by  the full House Appropriations Committee.  Frelinghuysen rose on the House floor to  oppose the amendment, saying:    

“My  colleague's amendment would add funding to ARPA-E which receives $100 million  in our bill. Our bill, which reduces funding to nearly the 2006 levels - may I  repeat, 2006 levels - fulfills our top responsibility of reducing government spending  while focusing funding on a small set of top priorities.

“In  addition to national defense and water infrastructure, our top priorities  include research to keep Americans competitive in science, innovation and the  development of intellectual property.

“ARPA-E  is a relatively new program - today we're discussing only its second regular  fiscal year appropriation - that offers industry, university and laboratory  grants for high-risk energy innovations. ARPA-E is getting positive early  reviews for its strong management and ability to execute on its mission to  drive innovation and keep American companies competitive.

“However,  I share many of my colleagues' concerns about this program. ARPA-E must not  intervene where capital private markets are already acting, and it must not be  redundant with other programs at the Department. In fact, ARPA-E is still a  young program, and it is prudent to provide a lower level of funding while it  is still maturing as a program and demonstrating its ability to address  congressional concerns, especially when the bill has so many important  priorities competing for scarce funding. This prudent approach is especially  warranted when the bill has so many important priorities competing.

“While  I support the goal of this new program, I cannot support any additional funding  at this time. Further, this amendment makes an unrealistic cut to the  Department's salaries and expenses. We cannot cut departmental oversight by 35  percent and expect the efficient use of taxpayer dollars and more oversight and  more management responsibilities. For these reasons and many more, I must  oppose the gentleman's amendment.”

Next  to speak was Rep. Bass, who spoke in support of the amendment:

“A  minute or two ago, I was in the [House] Cloakroom and I drew up the Web site  for ARPA-E, and it says at the top: ‘Disruptive and innovative approaches to  technology.’' What a wonderful thought, that a government agency can be  disruptive and innovative at the same time.

“Billions  of dollars have been spent on coal, on oil research, on wind and solar, on  biomass and conservation and the FreedomCAR. I got involved in the alternative  energy business way back in the late seventies when I was a staffer when ERDA [Energy  Research and Development Administration] was created. We had a real energy  crisis in this Nation as we do today. And yet we're really not anywhere nearly  as far along this path as we need to be.

“Now,  someone in the Congress, in the Department of Energy, had the good idea of  taking all these ideas for research and creating an entity that would be  devoted to giving individuals and inventors, people with good ideas, that  little spark that they need to turn those ideas into reality.

“The  first time they went out for solicitations, they got some 3,500 to 4,000 short,  7-page letters describing ideas. This is a program that leverages a relatively  small amount of research dollars into an enormous potential benefit not only to  America but to the world.

“But  within our boundaries here, we have the objective of lessening our dependence  on foreign energy, of cleaning up our environment, of creating jobs and new  economies for Americans. Given the fact that we have spent literally billions  on the research and development in traditional energy resources, all we are  asking to do in this amendment is to get the level up to last year, $71 million  over the suggested appropriation of $100 million; $71 million. All that to  support an agency that, using their own words, provides a fresh look, a  flexible, efficient way to find new ideas to solve very serious problems in  America.

“I  hope that the Congress will support Mr. Schiff's amendment to add this $71  million to keep this program strong, active, and moving forward because I think  it has the potential to do more than any other research program in alternative  energy can do today. I urge support of this amendment.”

Raising  many of the same points he made when the House Appropriations Committee  considered this bill, Rep. Visclosky outlined his opposition to the amendment:

“I  rise in opposition to the amendment. I have spoken on a number of occasions  this evening about the need to invest in research. In this instance, there is a  school of thought that I would not argue, that ARPA-E has shown some promise as  a new organizational model at the Department of Energy. But as I have stated,  debating this point in the past, I am troubled that the vigor at the Department  that has led to ARPA and this new idea, singular, has largely been absent when  it       comes  to addressing the systemic management and communication problems in other  existing applied programs.

“The  Department had a great idea that I support in creating Energy Frontier Research  Centers. That began in 2009, and we now have 46 Energy Frontier Research Centers  doing good work. We now have Energy Innovation Hubs. We have a hub for  energy-efficient building systems. We have a hub for fuels; a sunlight hub. We  have a hub for modeling and simulation. There is a request approved in this  bill for a hub for batteries and storage. A hub for critical materials.    The  Department of Energy in 2007 had an idea that we should have a Bioenergy Research  Center system, and we now have three. We have the Joint Bioenergy Institute in  Berkeley, California. We have the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center in  Madison, Wisconsin. We have the Bioenergy Science Center in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.  In 1997, the Department of Energy had an idea. We should have a Joint Genome  Institute. It was established, and now we have one in Walnut Creek, California.  We have what has been described to me as the  gems of the intellectual power of the United States of America in the various  laboratories that I have not even enumerated in my remarks.

“Again,  given the allocation we have had, there have been cuts to the underlying  accounts in science and EERE [Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy] that  provide funding for many of these research centers. I think before we proceed  along the lines established in this amendment, we need to make sure that the  Department understands what their allocation of resources are for what they  have and what they historically have had to make sure that there is good  communication, and to make sure that the promise of ARPA is met as we proceed  down this road before again we start making additional significant investments.    So I do understand and appreciate what  the gentleman wants to do here. I do support this research to create this  knowledge, but it is time to ensure that the Department is managing properly  and having proper communication between all of these other centers first. For  that reason, I object to the gentleman's amendment.”

roll call vote was demanded.  The House  passed Schiff’s amendment by 1 vote: 214 yes votes to 213 no votes.  There were 180 Democrats and 34 Republicans  voting for the amendment, and 8 Democrats and 205 Republicans voting against  it. 

Later during the House’s consideration of the bill,  Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) offered an amendment to prohibit spending on  ARPA-E.  Flake stated:

“This amendment would simply prohibit funds from  going to the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E. There is  ARPA-Defense, there is ARPA other stuff, there is ARPA-E. This is what we are  trying to do is prohibit funding from going to ARPA-E, or energy.

“ARPA-E is currently set to receive about $100  million in this appropriation bill. The most compelling argument given to  defund ARPA-E is found on its own Web site, which states that it was  established ‘to focus on creative, out-of-the-box transformational energy  research that industry by itself cannot or will not support due to its high  risk, but where success would provide dramatic benefits.’  It is this kind of, I guess, out-of-the-box  thinking that has gotten us into this deficit that we're running, about $1.6  trillion.

“We are broke. We are borrowing 41 cents on every  dollar that we spend, yet still we find within our budget reason to find $100  million to fund energy research in private companies that others won't fund  because it's too risky.

“Now, we're not talking about products for defense  for which there is no commercial application; we're talking about private  sector research that could reap a windfall for some private company, and has in  a number of other areas. But yet we believe that it's prudent to borrow - because  we're borrowing everything here - borrow money from the taxpayer to pick and  choose favored companies to receive this research money.  It's not right. We ought to defund it.”

Rising to oppose the amendment was Chairman  Frelinghuysen:

“My colleague's amendment would eliminate funding  for ARPA-E. The committee's top responsibility, of course, is to reduce  government spending, and I appreciate my colleague's amendment and perhaps some  of his other amendments for that reason. To that end, our bill reduces spending  for energy and water development to near the 2006 level, $100 billion below  fiscal year 2011, and a full $5.9 billion below the request.

“I certainly share many of my colleague's concerns  about this program. The committee has taken a very close look at it. Right now,  ARPA-E must not intervene where private capital markets are already acting, and  it must not be redundant with other programs of the Department of Energy.  I oppose the gentleman's amendment.

Ranking Member Visclosky also opposed Flake’s  amendment:

“We just had a vote earlier in the Chamber adding  $79 million to this program. But setting that particular vote as I have  mentioned several times, while I have great trepidation about people at the  Department of Energy talking to each other and the Department not having the  same vigor, if you would, that they have for ARPA-E, instilling that in other  research centers, it does appear that this is a successful program in its  infancy. We certainly ought to make sure that it has a chance to show that it  can be successful over a limited number of years -- they are talking about 3.  My emphasis with them is to distill that same effort across the Department of  Energy.  So I would join my chairman in  opposing the gentleman's amendment.

Also opposing Flake’s amendment was Rep. Norm Dicks  (D-WA), Ranking Minority Members of the full House Appropriations  Committee.  Said Dicks:

“I rise in opposition to this amendment, too. The  bill would provide $100 million for ARPA-E, which is already $80 million less  than FY 2011 funding - and of course we have to take into account the amendment  that was just passed - and $450 million below the President's budget request. ARPA-E is a promising new program that can drive  innovation to support our scientific competitiveness. As I stated previously in  my opening statement, ARPA-E has shown potential as a new organizational model.  And I am disappointed that the same vigor that led to its creation has been  largely absent when it comes to addressing the systemic and organizational  problems in other existing applied programs, which was an element of the  justification used for ARPA-E. ARPA-E is modeled on DARPA. And as the  ranking member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, DARPA has been one  of the great leaders of innovation in the national security area. So again, I'm  sorry to say it, but I think we have to defeat the Flake amendment.”

Flake had the final word:

“But I would just say again here, we're not talking  about things in national security or in defense for which there is no  commercial application, for which companies that invest in this kind of  research would not reap a windfall, the reason for which the profit motive incentivizes  companies to invest in these things. Why in the world does government have to  be the investor of last resort in what are, quote, transformational energy  research for which the industry by itself cannot or will not support due to its  high risk? I mean, if it's that high risk, believe me, we shouldn't be taking  it.

“If venture capital out there won't do it, we  shouldn't be doing it either with money that we're borrowing from venture  capitalists and others who have a little better idea than we do. When we go out  and support corn ethanol for 30 years, for crying out loud, or some of these  other things and we keep doing it and saying, Yeah, it's going to come around  one of these days and this is just a promising new area of research, come on.  We're $14 trillion in debt. We have negotiations going on right now over at the  White House or somewhere else trying to figure a way to raise the debt ceiling  to spend more.  Isn't it time that we  review programs like this, where we are trying to replace what is not happening  in the private sector or trying to outguess the private sector?

“And I just tell you, if we can't cut here, I don't  know where we're going to cut, I really don't. The gentleman made the point  that we are down to 2006 levels. Great. We ought to go further than that. I  mean, 2006, we act as if that was a Great Depression year, ‘Grapes of Wrath’  music playing or something. It wasn't exactly that. We have seen ramping up  year after year after year in some of these programs. We are spending more than  we ever have.  So I would urge adoption  of the amendment.”

A roll call vote was taken, and Flake’s amendment  was defeated by a vote of 81to 341.  No  Democrat voted for this amendment.

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