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Budget Cuts
Scientists Know the Value of ARPA-E

President Trump’s draft budget proposes axing a lot of government programs, but perhaps none are more valuable than the Advanced Research Project Agency-Energy, also known as ARPA-E. George W. Bush created the agency in 2007 to help fund “moonshot” energy projects—the sorts of technologies that could shift paradigms and solve problems that today seem insurmountable, or even problems we don’t know of yet. It was a forward looking strategy that has since won bipartisan support in Congress, and was one that Barack Obama also backed.

Donald Trump is charting a different course, though, and as the NYT reports, scientists are concerned:

[A] panel of experts convened by the National Academy of Sciences said it had “found no signs that ARPA-E is failing.”

To the contrary, the panel said in its evaluation that the agency had made vital progress in nudging forward research on projects like advanced carbon capture and grid-scale battery storage. And the report’s authors suggested that much of this research was in high-risk areas that would not have otherwise been pursued by the private sector, echoing the conclusions of a 2012 investigation by the Government Accountability Office.

“ARPA-E has made significant contributions to energy R & D that likely would not take place absent the agency’s activities,” Pradeep Khosla, chairman of the panel that wrote the report and chancellor of the University of California, San Diego, said in a statement.

That last part is critical, because it gets to the heart of Trump’s argument that the kind of research being conducted under the ARPA-E umbrella could be better employed by the private sector. Experts—and the researchers actually undertaking these sorts of projects—disagree, though, and this new panel confirms what we already knew: ARPA-E is playing a vital role in the research and development of promising energy technologies, a role that would go unfulfilled without it.

For more, read William Bonvillian’s expert commentary on the matter. However you look at it, axing ARPA-E would be a major mistake. This is one budget cut the nation can’t afford.

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  • FriendlyGoat

    “Expert commentary” is out of fashion, unfortunately. Nothing is going on but 1) play to the base, and 2) make fools out of the base——simultaneously.

    • Anthony

      You may find this piece (long) of interest; make time: prospect.org/article/winning-some-middle-road-working-class-whites

      • FriendlyGoat

        Thanks. There is a lot there to consider—–too late for averting negative consequences of the present long-rolling catastrophe, of course. So, when we speak of identifying the “persuadables”, we are speaking both of the might-have-been past tense (during 2016) and present tense reality (after what is seen in 2017 in the way of policy direction with a full slate of Republicans).

        We will eventually find ourselves asking the same question as once asked by Sarah Palin (but hopefully with less snark—–or maybe not), “So, how’s that hopey changy stuff workin’ out for ya?”
        Are they treatin’ ya better at work? Do you feel more secure in your health care now? What did you get from tax reform? Is the repeal of Mr. Trump’s AMT and Estate Tax a-tricklin’ down? How’r things at church? People gettin’ sweeter over there? How’r things at public school? That all gettin’ straightened out? Point being—–we have what we have in governmental tone. It’s gonna last a while. The only “persuadable” that matters going forward will be in hindsight of the “Trump effect”—-the Trumpian policies which unfold and the visible fallout from them. We don’t even know what all those are yet, but the Trump Train is now a-rollin’. At present, a lot of people are still riding on “Well, better than Hillary”—-but that will fade as time goes forward. Then—-THEN—–there is the reality of “What did you get? What didn’t you get?

        Meanwhile, of course, Limbaugh, Hannity and Breitbart etal are not expected to be going away. They just write new verses and keep singing. Who keeps listening? Hard to say.

        • ——————————

          Hmmmm…it seems someone didn’t pet any goats today….

          • FriendlyGoat

            Actually I did. Four to be exact. But that does not bear on whether everyone in the white working-class GOP can be expected to be dumb as rocks FOREVER. Sooner or later, I predict that some of them are going to notice that every economic thing coming to them from their own side really amounts to a take-away. This has never changed and it’s rolling at overdrive speed at this moment. It’s a matter of time until “How’s that Trumpy thing workin’ out for ya?” becomes real and noticeable.

          • ——————————

            I’m not that political FG.
            My politics, if it could be called politics, has more to do with reversing everything the progressive left has accomplished over the last 80+ years…and I also want globalism reversed…not sure that is really political though. And my desired way to reverse all of this is by an all-out armed civil war against liberals, elites, and academia, until there are not enough left to affect society.
            The rest if the right/left stuff I really don’t care about….

            Humans need to go back to behaving the way they did before technology…that is what made us what we are…anything else, we are just fooling ourselves.
            Technology is artificial…human nature is not…..

          • FriendlyGoat

            You and I have “made the effort” to not be enemies, even though we are not in agreement on much of any of the political stuff. As needed, I will do prescribed goat petting to keep myself from going “batsh*t crazy” on you. I hope you will understand why I perceive myself as one of those you would be planning to shoot in an armed civil war—–and why my goats and I see that as a baaaaaad problem.

          • ——————————

            Slow down FG. you are overreacting…yikes.
            First, that civil war will not happen in our lifetime, but something will happen someday, and it will be regarding the things I mentioned. Just because we have electricity and cars, does not mean ideas are not worth fighting for…as they have always been.
            Humans in the Western societies are so pacified by their technologies that the thought of basic survival and war terrifies them.

            If a person is not willing to kill or be killed for their beliefs, then they truly don’t hold their beliefs….

  • Suzy Dixon

    My nephew is an engineer. He attended Cal Poly and worked at NASAs JPL in Pasadena before DARPA. He said that a lot of the work being done by ARPAE is just taken over by DARPA if it’s really worth it.

    • Pait

      Arpa-E and Darpa do fundamentally different lines of research.

      • KremlinKryptonite

        The DoN and DARPA have already taken over a number of ARPA-E and even some DoA projects. This accelerated about seven years ago under the Navy Biofuel and Advanced Battery Initiative….part of the Green Strike Group and later Great Green Fleet programs.

        • Pait

          It is possible that some projects are of interest for both agencies. Nevertheless, Arpa-E and Darpa do fundamentally different lines of research.

          • KremlinKryptonite

            But they don’t. Both work on advanced energy tech and renewables. So does NASA JPL for that matter. The only reason why DARPA and DoN could essentially takeover a project is because of how closely linked their work often is.

  • Dan Kearns

    There’s been a change culturally that doesn’t seem to have filtered through to some precincts: appeals to the neutrality of scientists, experts, and the researchers actually working on these projects (as the article puts it) don’t get the same free pass that they did in mid- to late- twentieth century America. There is more concern with sinecures, featherbedding, and a general recognition that self-interest is as apparent in the sciences as it Is anywhere else in life. The “trust us” appeal to authority can come off as quite evasive these days.

  • Pait

    On the other hand, undermining America’s world leadership in energy science and technology could be very profitable for Russian oil oligarchs, the Koch brothers, and Saudi princes. There might be more gold medals to be gained by further genuflecting to them.

    • Isaiah6020

      So wait a second. We have POOOOOOOOOOOOOOTIN….. We have KOCH BROTHERS !!!!111!!!!1!1! You even threw in a Saudi connection (in homage of George W. Bush I suspect). It’s like a grab bag of conspiracy theories. Choose your own adventure!!!
      Also, the idea that America’s leadership comes exclusively from government agencies is simply false. I’d say I expected better from you, but given your advanced TDS I honestly didn’t. But on the plus side, your post is almost a textbook definition of “begging the question” logical fallacy. So you got that going for you. Which is nice.

      • f1b0nacc1

        You expected otherwise?

        Loved the Bill Murray reference….

      • Pait

        Some people might want to take a cue from another commenter to this post and use a more explicit Kremlin troll pseudonym….

        • Isaiah6020

          Oh dude, come on. You are calling me a Russian bot? Really? That’s the best you could do? I understand getting pimpslapped by reality is sometimes an unpleasant experience, but it is always a necessary one.
          I would just note in passing that of course you didn’t try to defend your earlier absurd notions. It’s OK. Truth be told, I like playing with TDS victims.

          • Pait

            Hadn’t thought of you in particular, but, I don’t know how your business is going, perhaps it’s an activity to consider. Who am I to judge?

  • Gerald

    I read the referenced report. It basically notes the amount of projects being funded with lots of hope, but lists no concrete results. If it is such a great program/organization shouldn’t we see some result after years of funding? Our government is full of agencies/departments that invest lots of money, but very few of them actually show positive results. Maybe this one will be different, but not much to show so far.

  • Andrew Allison

    Consider the sources: “[A] panel of experts convened by the National Academy of Sciences” — dollars to doughnuts the experts are all feeding at the public trough; Pradeep Khosla, chairman of the panel that wrote the report and chancellor of the University of California, San Diego; William B. Bonvillian, who previously served as legislative director and chief counsel to Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT), directs the Washington office of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Given the extraordinary amount of taxpayer money that has been thrown at energy boondoggles, and the long history of successful innovation by DARPA, there’s little question that ARPA-E is redundant.

    • f1b0nacc1

      You beat me to it….this is simply polling the pigs at the trough to see if they want more slop….

      • CaliforniaStark

        When the NYT says “scientist are concerned” you know its going to be about the loss of government pork.

        In support of further funding “the panel said in its evaluation that the agency had made vital progress in nudging forward research on projects like advanced carbon capture and grid-scale battery storage.” These are both technologies that presently are about dead in the water. Please show us where either exists on a substantial scale? Can anyone name a successful “moonshot” technology that ARPA-E is responsible for? What exactly does “nudging forward “a new technology mean? Sounds like a lot of the researchers involved would be more useful flipping burgers.

      • Pete

        Nicely put.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    “Experts—and the researchers actually undertaking these sorts of projects—disagree”

    So, “Experts” doing this work say “don’t fire us”, what we do is important! Doesn’t everyone feel this way? This is why America chose Trump, to fight for the interests of the American Working Class, against the rent-seeking parasites feeding on them?

    The “Best” by far energy program in the world (Fracking), was opposed by the Government, and cost the American People “Nothing”.

    • MyWord245

      My response is to your last sentence. Government played a vital role in developing and demonstrating tracking technologies and even funded private companies to pilot the technology. It is not to take any credit away from the private innovations. Numerous independent studies took pains to document Gov’t’r role (see for example Breakthrough Institute). A Chevron executive himself wrote that in an Op-Ed piece (don’t have the link readily).
      Why do many of you keep repeating this claim that Gov’t had no role or worse yet negative role? Is it because you fail to distinguish between R&D (by DOE) and policy (by EPA). I find your posts to be generally well thought out…. so what gives in this case?

    • RedWell

      Amazing. The government has the option of funding scientists to do research that may pay big dividends for a fraction of the overall federal budget, or we can cut those people loose to work on smart phone aps or some other gadget while we as a society double down on the internal combustion engine.

      Sorry you resent “experts,” but that’s not a rational cost-benefit calculation.

      As for your other points:

      (1) Trump was chosen not by America but by a minority of voters and the technicalities of the Electoral College, so his mandate to revolutionize the world is weak;

      (2) poor states and the working class get far more in government spending then they ever put in. This includes public education, Social Security, roads, public health benefits, tax breaks, and so on. Inequality and wage stagnation are a problem, but blaming some scientists working on new tech that might benefit the whole world are not the parasites that they should worry about.

  • Jim__L

    https://arpa-e.energy.gov/?q=arpa-e-site-page/arpa-e-budget

    “ARPA-E’s initial $400 million budget was a part of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. ARPA-E received $180 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 2011, $275 million in FY2012, $251 million in FY2013, and $280 million in both FY2014 and FY2015.”

    Apple could pay for this out of petty cash. If Lefties want to make this happen, they aren’t exactly lacking in funds.

    Heck, California could pay for this, if they axed Fresno Area Rapid Transit.

  • Jonathan Dembo

    Surprise! The “experts” want to be administered by an agency run by “experts” instead of a company that needs to make a profit. The advances generated by this sort of organization — think the Manhattan Project — are exactly the same type of advances violently opposed by the scientists a generation later. Who cares how much money you waste today, if you get to criticize the advances later?

  • Fat_Man

    ARPA-E is just welfare for white people, who neither truly need it nor deserve it.

  • Kevin

    I’m willing to see us fund research but only if it’s tied to an end to crony capitalism like at Solyndra, ethanol requirements, etc. The problem is leaving the DOE budget alone leaves it as a slush fund for crony capitalism. Better to shut the whole thing down if the agency can’t police its own.

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