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Member Speeches :: March 2, 2010

Chairman Gordon's remarks at the first ARPA-E Innovation Summit

As prepared for delivery


We have all noticed the partisan cloud that has descended over Washington.  But the America COMPETES Act which authorized ARPA-E is an example that bipartisanship is still possible.  A small group of lawmakers, from both sides of the aisle and both sides of Capitol Hill, came together to request that the National Academies look at the future of nation’s competitiveness.  National Academies put together a stellar team, chaired by retired chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin Norm Augustine. 


The report they wrote painted a bleak future:  a stagnating U.S. economy, an ill-equipped educational system, and the U.S. losing its place as a scientific world leader.  There was a good chance that the next generation of Americans would have a lower standard of living than their parents—a complete reversal of the American dream.  As the father of a soon-to-be-nine year old daughter this was especially shocking to me.  When I graduated from college, I competed with graduates from my community for jobs.  A few years later, graduates were in competition with jobseekers from all over the country.  When my daughter graduates from college, she will compete with graduates from all over the world. The world is getting smaller, and that’s why it’s critical that the U.S. ensures its places as a leader in innovation for years to come.


Fortunately, the National Academies panel also offered a set of recommendations to set the U.S. on course towards continued technological and economic competitiveness.   They made a broad set of proposals for enhancing K-12 STEM education; for doubling the budgets of our core federal research agencies; and finally, for addressing the growing security threat posed by our reliance on fossil fuels through the formation of a new energy research agency modeled on DARPA.  


My House and Senate colleagues and I recognized the gravity of those recommendations, and responded by translating them into legislation.  We were able to pass it through the Science and Technology Committee, through the House, and through the Senate with strong, bipartisan support.   President Bush signed it into law in August of 2007 as the America COMPETES Act.


I’m pleased that the new Administration and Congressional Leadership have been so supportive of an aggressive innovation agenda every step of the way, especially ARPA-E.  First, we were able to include $400 million in the Recovery Package to establish ARPA-E.  Next, President Obama had the foresight to tap Dr. Chu to head the Department of Energy—besides being director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and a Nobel prize winner, Secretary Chu was a member of the Rising Above the Gathering Storm panel and, specifically, was instrumental in crafting the recommendation to establish ARPA-E.  The president could not have found someone who better understands how ARPA-E needed to be set up and managed to fulfill its mission as a nimble, non-bureaucratic and high-risk research agency.


President Obama and Secretary Chu are to be applauded in choosing Dr. Arun Majumdar to be Director of ARPA-E.  Dr. Mujumdar is talented and passionate, innovative and aggressive.  And the team he and the Secretary have put together reflect those same values.   They understand their mission better than anyone, and that that their charge is to be innovative not only in the projects they undertake, but also in how they undertake them.  And some have made tremendous personal sacrifices, leaving behind their families and high paying jobs to come to D.C. in the name of public service. 


One of the barriers we’ve come up against is that there are more good ideas than there is federal funding to support them.  When Secretary Chu and Director Mujumdar and I were talking about the possibility of holding a forum to bring together award winners and promising applicants with potential investors, I told Director Mujumdar that his lawyers would give him a hundred reasons why we couldn’t do the summit, and I challenged him to ask them for one reason why we could. 


To his credit, he did just that.  And, as with everything else in ARPA-E, he did it in record time.  This summit was put together in two months.  And, instead of a few hundred attendees we had hoped for, we are now looking at over 1700.  CT-SI and the DOE and ARPA-E staff are to be commended for this achievement. 


It shouldn’t surprise us.  This really seems to be par for the course under Dr. Majumdar’s leadership.  From the unprecedented response to the first funding opportunity announcement, to the fact that the first round of grants attracted more private sector matching funds than was required or expected, to the overwhelming response to this summit, ARPA-E is exceeding expectations from the beginning.  I see this as proof that we are tapping into a pent-up hunger for this type of transformational energy technology development program.  


Thank you all for being here today, and for your role in this important new endeavor.  I have every confidence that the work being done through the agency and with our private sector partners will soon yield results, and we will all be very proud that we were involved in this exciting agency, at this exciting time. 


Thank you. 


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Bart Gordon, Chairman


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