Senate budgetmakers move to keep ARPA-E, bump up DOE science spending

U.S. Senate budgetmakers are headed to a showdown with their counterparts in the House of Representatives over the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). A Senate appropriations subcommittee voted today to give ARPA-E, which aims to quickly incubate the best ideas from basic research and turn them into fledging energy technologies, an 8% increase, to $330 million, in the 2018 fiscal year that begins 1 October. In contrast, a House spending panel voted last week to eliminate the young agency, which got its start in 2009.

In addition, the Senate subcommittee would bump up the budget of DOE’s basic research wing, the Office of Science, by $158 million, or 3%, to $5.55 billion. In contrast, the House bill would keep the budget of the Office of Science flat at $5.39 billion. (In its budget proposal, the Trump administration called for cutting the office's budget by 17%, to $4.47 billion, and eliminating ARPA-E.)

Both the ARPA-E and Office of Science numbers are part of a $38.4 billion bill that sets funding levels for DOE, the Army Corps of Engineers, and other agencies. Its language boosting DOE’s science spending and protecting ARPA-E is not a surprise: Senators signaled last month that they weren’t keen on the White House’s deep proposed cuts. On the idea of eliminating ARPA-E, for example, Senator Lamar Alexander (R–TN), chair of the Senate appropriations subcommittee that oversees DOE, said: “That is not what we are going to do.”

In another provision, Senate appropriators once again have moved to zero out funding for the U.S. contribution to ITER, the gigantic fusion experiment under construction near Cadarache in France. The House has voted to pony up $63 million for ITER next year, the amount requested by the White House.

The subcommittee did not provide full details of the bill, which is scheduled to go to the full Senate appropriations committee on Thursday.