Senior official in charge of energy investment agency to step down

Arun Majumdar, a top Energy Department official, will leave the agency next month, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said Wednesday.

Majumdar will step down as head of the Energy Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) on June 9. He will leave his position as acting under secretary of Energy effective immediately.

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“Arun has been an invaluable resource to me, to the Department, and to the Administration, and we will miss his leadership,” Chu said in an email to staff Wednesday afternoon.

ARPA-E — which was first established in 2007 but didn’t receive funding until 2009 — invests in so-called "high-risk, high-reward" projects to develop "transformational" energy technologies.

“Under Arun's leadership, we have seen ARPA-E grow from a fledgling program to become a leading agency for innovation and energy research,” Chu said in the email.

ARPA-E, a centerpiece of Chu’s push to spur development of next-wave green-energy technologies, is modeled after the military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Majumdar and ARPA-E have largely escaped Republican criticism. GOP furor has largely been directed at DOE’s loan-guarantee program, which is separate from ARPA-E. The loan program backed the now-defunct solar manufacturing company Solyndra.

President Obama tapped Majumdar to be under secretary of Energy late last year, but he was never confirmed. Majumdar became under secretary in an acting capacity when Cathy Zoi left the department in March.

Sen. Rand Paul's (R-Ky.) office said he had placed a “hold” on Majumdar’s confirmation as under secretary. Paul was holding up the nomination over concerns that the Energy Department is not supporting uranium enrichment in Kentucky.

An Energy Department official, however, said Majumdar's departure has nothing to do with Paul's hold.

David Sandalow, who currently serves as assistant secretary for policy and international affairs at the department, will replace Majumdar as undersecretary. Eric Toone, the department’s deputy director of technology, will become head of ARPA-E, Chu said.

A mechanical engineer, Majumdar previously served as an associate director at the Energy Department’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He also taught engineering at the University of California, Berkeley.

Majumdar plans to move back to California to spend more time with his wife and children, who have lived in the state during his time in Washington, an Energy Department official said.

Majumdar said in a memo announcing the move that ARPA-E is on a good path and that its establishment could not have happened without support from President Obama and Chu.

“From all indicators, the future is bright for ARPA-E, and I believe it will serve the nation very well for decades to come. Creating and establishing a new federal agency is by no means a solo effort – it takes a ‘village,’” he writes, citing support from within DOE and White House departments such as the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

He also noted there has been bipartisan support from Congress.

Majumdar, explaining his reason for leaving, noted that his routine has been to spend two or three consecutive weeks D.C. and then fly back to California for the weekend.

“This separation has been enormously difficult for my wife, who had to simultaneously manage her job, single-handedly raise our two daughters, and take care of an energetic yellow Labrador,” he noted.

Majumdar added that there have been “transitions” that pushed up his resignation, noting he originally planned to remain in D.C. for the rest of the year. His older daughter left for college, while his wife shifted to a more demanding job with a longer commute, the memo notes.

“These transitions have led to a tougher family situation that none of us could have predicted a year or even six months ago,” he writes.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, called the resignation a loss for DOE.

“It is a true shame that we’re losing someone as innovative and talented as Arun Majumdar. In just three years, Dr. Majumdar has stood up a new agency, helped move Recovery Act funds into job-creating programs, and served as a reliable trouble-shooter and trusted secretarial advisor,” he said in a statement.

Coons said that as ARPA-E chief, Majumdar “has been an extraordinary ambassador for the ecosystem of innovation that will power the next generation of energy production in this country, and is certainly one of the most inspiring people I’ve met in my time here in the Senate.”


Here's the full email from Chu on Majumdar's departure:

Dear Colleagues,

After more than two and half years of service, Dr. Arun Majumdar, Director of Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy and Acting Under Secretary of Energy, has announced that he will be leaving the Department next month.

Arun will continue as the Director of ARPA-E until June 9th, when Eric Toone, the current Deputy Director of Technology, will assume leadership of the office.  Eric has been with ARPA-E since the early days in summer of 2009, and I have confidence in his ability to lead this important program.

Under Arun's leadership, we have seen ARPA-E grow from a fledgling program to become a leading agency for innovation and energy research.  Arun has recruited some of the most talented professionals across the country to join the ranks at ARPA-E and create programs that have the potential of changing the entire energy landscape. We have also seen the ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit become one of this Nation's leading venues for the exchange of energy ideas.  This past Summit brought some of the brightest minds of our generation together, such as President Clinton and Bill Gates, to talk about the future of Energy innovation and the importance of the work that the Department is doing.

Effective today, May 9th, David Sandalow will serve as the Acting Under Secretary of Energy.  David's deep knowledge of energy policy and the Department will be an enormous asset as he takes on this position while continuing to serve as Assistant Secretary for Policy & International Affairs.

As Acting Under Secretary of Energy, Arun has spearheaded efforts to create game changing programs that bring together the best and brightest across the Applied Offices, ARPA-E, and Office of Science to solve our greatest energy challenges. These programs include SunShot as well as 'Tech Teams' for Carbon Capture and Utilization, Grid, Batteries, and Biofuels.

Arun has been an invaluable resource to me, to the Department, and to the Administration, and we will miss his leadership.

Please join me in thanking Arun for his service and wishing him the best in his future pursuits.

Steve Chu

Secretary of Energy

— Ben Geman contributed

This story was updated at 4:08 p.m., 4:37 p.m. and 4:59 p.m.