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Home » Energy, Federal Agency, Funding/Financing/Investing, Original Writing, Opinions Advanced Biofuels USA

ARPA-E Not Showing Meaningful Flexibility for “Companies Who Do Not Traditionally Work with the Federal Government”

Submitted by on June 2, 2009 – 4:35 pmNo Comment

ARPA-E is a new organization within the Department of Energy (DOE), created specifically to foster research and development (R&D) of transformational energy-related technologies.  …

ARPA-E was created to fund scientists and technologists taking immature technologies that promise to make a large impacts on the ARPA-E Mission Areas (see Section I.B) and to develop them beyond the “valley of death” that prevents many transformational new technologies from becoming market realities.

In the executive summary of the recent ARPA-E solicitation the following is stated:

“ARPA-E has the flexibilities to work with companies who do not traditionally work with the Federal Government.”

However, the entire process for this funding opportunity has been obscure. Even though ARPA-E is a new program and their first solicitation is for $150 million, no applicant conferences were held, nor was a program manager appointed. In fact, no answers to questions submitted to their FedConnect website were ever posted.  Anyone who has any experience with the DOD/DARPA program, on which ARPA-E is based, knows that open communications between the program manager and prospective applicants is a cornerstone of DARPA’s success.

Congressman Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD-6), an original co-sponsor of the ARPA-E legislation, has expressed concerns about the lack of direction and transparency at ARPA-E.

It appeared that ARPA-E was going to show flexibility with a deadline extension for potential applicants who were having trouble obtaining required Central Contract Registry numbers (CCRs) and FedConnect registration numbers.  ARPA-E announced that it would extend the application deadline to June 10.

That doesn’t help those who didn’t realize the extra step and unusual process that ARPA-E had created.  Usually, cover letters for federal solicitations are filed electronically (with the CCRs and FedConnect registration) at the time the application is filed.  Hidden on the 14th page of the ARPA-E application instructions was a surprise variation on this theme.  Instead of filing the cover letter along with the application, it was to be filed, alone, by May 26, in order to obtain a control number.

For some reason, when ARPA-Eextended the application deadline, they did not extend the deadline for obtaining the control number.  That doesn’t seem very flexible and doesn’t seem to be sensitive to the problems encountered by those who “do not traditionally work with the Federal Government.”  It doesn’t even seem very understanding of those who are familiar with Federal Government practices-when this procedure varied significantly from the standard.

Further, the ARPA-E website states the following,

“We look forward to receiving many great ideas that will improve the nation’s energy security and curb climate change.”

Arbitrarily making a decision to restrict the issuance of control numbers certainly does not seem in keeping with the mission of “We look forward to receiving many great ideas.” Instead it sounds like restricting them for some unfathomable reason which ARPA-E is unwilling to share with applicants.

If ARPA-E is serious about wanting innovative new ideas from those who do not traditionally work with the federal government, then they should have “user-friendly” procedures in place and they should loosen up and be as flexible as their mission statement says they should be.  They have already changed one deadline, what’s the big deal about not changing another?   Other programs, even ones with less funding, have project managers and provide answers to submitted questions.  Why didn’t this program get the same respect and attention?

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