With a proposed cut of 45% hanging in the balance in the US Congress, it’s a tense season for officials at the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), the arm of the US Department of Energy (DOE) that specializes in funding high-risk high-payoff research on energy. Now an audit report from the DOE’s Inspector-General (IG) has added to their woes by criticizing ARPA-E over what it says is insufficient oversight and monitoring of awards made using the $400 million the agency received under the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (also known as the stimulus bill).
The IG says ARPA-E lacked policies on monitoring and oversight of its awardees, including on which costs were allowable, and on termination of awards that weren’t performing well. The audit uncovered a total of about $280,000 in charges by ARPA-E awardees that were paid but not allowable. The IG also complains that ARPA-E had no system to ensure technology transfer goals set by Congress were met.
In a written response attached to the report, ARPA-E Director Arun Majumdar (pictured) agrees with recommendations by the IG to develop new policies and procedures for monitoring, and points to new policies on allowable costs introduced in February 2011 and new requirements for awardees to meet technology transfer goals in April 2011.
However, the IG expresses concern in its report that the new policy may not prevent awardees from charging costs that would generally be unallowable under the Federal Acquisition Regulations that apply to grants and contracts awarded by the US government.
The IG report may fuel concern in Congress over ARPA-E’s high risk projects. In a June report Congressional appropriators in the US House of Representatives directed ARPA-E to provide them with reports on each research project ARPA-E funds, “in order to better understand success rates for a program that specifically funds high-risk projects.” They added they would view termination of inadequately performing research projects as a sign of strength, not weakness.
The House report recommended funding ARPA-E at $100 million in 2012, $80 million less than it received in 2011, and $450 million less than US President Barack Obama had asked for. The Senate has yet to arrive at a number.