Budget Day Surprise #1: $300 Million for ARPA-E

Federal budget day has dawned on Washington, D.C., and the numbers the Administration is proposing for 2011 are coming in fast and furious. Science's team of reporters will be posting items throughout the day as we analyze the numbers, so be sure to keep coming back to Insider.

An early eyebrow-raiser? President Barack Obama wants to spend $300 million next year on the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), the blue-sky science arm of the Department of Energy (DOE). The 3-year-old agency got off to a fast start with $400 million of Recovery Act money to spend in 2009 and 2010. But Congress has yet to bestow any funds on ARPA-E through the normal appropriations process, so it's unclear how lawmakers will respond to Obama's proposal to give so much to the new agency. The $300 million for ARPA-E in such a tough overall budget environment means that Energy Secretary Steve Chu has successfully shepherded the program through the Office of Science and Technology Policy and White House budgeteers, which is no small feat. Also impressive for Chu: DOE's Office of Science would get a 4.6% increase in 2011, to $5.12 billion. The money would fund a gaggle of programs at U.S. universities and the national labs.

With budget austerity a main theme both for the White House and the Democrat-controlled Congress, the normal caveat—that these numbers are just a proposal that lawmakers must approve or alter—is more important than ever this year.