Distinguished University of Maryland physics professor Ellen Williams presented a Global Sustainability Forum on April 25 discussing her ARPA-E experience dealing with the interface between policy and technology.
“The two together — technology plus policy — they are far more potent than either one of them alone,” Williams said.
Prior to returning to the University in January 2017, Williams was the director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency, ARPA-E, in the Department of Energy, which advances high-potential, high-impact energy technologies that are too early for private-sector investment. Williams has a distinguished history of professional service, including chairing the development of the National Academies report on Technical Issues for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and extensive work in providing technical advice to the U.S. government, primarily through the Departments of Energy and Defense.
President Trump’s proposed budget has slated ARPA-E for closure. Under the budget, the Department of Energy would see its 2017 budget reduced to $1.7 billion, a 5.6 percent cut. The ARPA-E program, which seeks to advance high-potential, high-impact energy technologies, would be eliminated on the grounds that the private sector "is better positioned to finance disruptive energy research." ARPA-E was authorized under former President George W. Bush, and has maintained decent bipartisan support in Congress as well, according to Williams.
She added that ARPA-E's type of research and development can benefit climate action, the economy, efficiency, and more. For example, Williams noted, minimizing natural gas leaks both cuts down on waste of a resource and also helps the environment. She said that moving forward, policy needs to be tailored to address up-and-coming technology initiatives.