Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee staff are circulating legislation that would authorize major increases in Energy Department research and development programs and expand agency hiring authority.
The draft bill also aims to prepare students for careers in the energy sector and makes changes to DOE's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy program.
The measure is being circulated ahead of a committee hearing on DOE R&D programs Thursday, one of several scheduled as Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) hopes to mark up a large energy bill before the April recess.
The bill would double the R&D spending authorization over four years, according to a committee summary. Efficiency, electricity delivery and renewable energy funding would be authorized at $1.97 billion in fiscal 2010, rising over the next three years to $3.23 billion in fiscal 2013. It would also boost nuclear energy research authorization levels, reaching $1.59 billion in 2013.
Fossil energy programs, which include initiatives to speed up development and deployment of carbon sequestration, would be authorized at $1.07 billion next year and rise to $1.67 billion in 2013. The draft does not consider money in the recently enacted stimulus bill, which appropriates billions for "smart grid" and sequestration initiatives.
The bill includes several provisions aimed at quickly bringing top-flight talent to DOE, an agency with lots of new money on the way for alternative energy and efficiency that it is under orders to spend fast. The agency is undergoing a major transition thanks to a stimulus package that routes $39 billion through the agency in addition to its regular funding.
One provision would provide the agency with more so-called direct hire authority, allowing DOE to move more quickly than normal bureaucratic hiring guidelines.The bill would provide this authority for two years to bring on more scientists, engineers and other "critical technical personnel." The recently enacted stimulus already attaches this authority to funding for energy efficiency, renewable energy and electricity delivery initiatives.
Another would provide "critical hire" authority that would enable DOE to hire up to 40 people for up to four years. The hires would be for slots that the secretary finds require "extremely high" levels of expertise in scientific or technical fields, and the provision would also require the secretary to certify that DOE would not accomplish an important mission without them.
This provision -- aimed at helping the agency attract top people from industry and universities -- could help DOE become better able compete with the private sector by allowing these hires' salaries to be as high as vice-presidential pay, which in 2009 is $227,300.
Elsewhere, the bill includes a suite of energy education and work force training provisions, such as helping prepare community college students for careers in the electric utility industry and grants to state education departments to help create or expand "energy career academies."
Another section alters the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, a program within DOE to develop breakthrough energy technologies that was authorized in a 2007 law. The new bill specifies that the agency should work through "competing industrial-led teams" as it seeks to sped up technological advances.
This is included to help ensure that these technological advances are quickly transferred to the public, according to a summary circulated along with the bill. The bill also extends ARPA-E's authorization for another 10 years through 2020 and allows it to execute grants, contracts and other transactions separate from DOE.