WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - A former Google executive who previously led an Energy Department unit that funded research into experimental power projects is among the front-runners to lead the agency under President-elect Joe Biden, according to two people familiar with the matter.
Mr Arun Majumdar, a Stanford University engineering professor who was named Tuesday (Nov 10) to lead the Biden transition team for the agency, is on the short-list to be its top official, the people said.
"He has to be the front-runner if Joe Biden is looking for a politically savvy technical expert to lead the agency," said Mr Jeff Navin, a co-founder and partner at Boundary Stone Partners, a Washington-based government affairs and communications firm.
Mr Majumdar declined to comment, instead referring questions to the Biden transition team that said in a statement that it has "not made any personnel decisions at this time."
The Energy Department has a budget of about US$35 billion (S$47 billion) and a disparate mission that includes helping to build the nation's nuclear warheads, maintaining its emergency stockpile of oil and conducting research on subjects as varied as super computers and capturing carbon dioxide emissions.
In addition to Mr Majumdar, Ms Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, a former deputy Energy secretary whose deep background on nuclear weapons is considered an asset, is among the top candidates to lead the agency, according to the people. She didn't respond to an email seeking comment.
Mr Majumdar has been told to resign from all boards and organisations associated with energy to eliminate perceived conflicts of interest, according to one person familiar with the communication. He resigned from the board of the Electric Power Research Institute, according to the institute.
Under Mr Biden, the agency is expected to have a major role in Covid-related economic stimulus that the president-elect has said will be one of his top priorities.
Under President Barack Obama the agency was instrumental in disseminating some US$90 billion in clean energy stimulus spending under the Recovery Act in 2009.
Mr Majumdar, who also served as the acting undersecretary of Energy, won bi-partisan praise for his work as the founding director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy under Mr Obama with the goal of helping investors translate science into breakthrough technologies.
The programme, which was targeted for elimination by Mr Trump but preserved by Congress, has doled out billions of dollars to hundreds of projects including a squid-skin inspired shirt to regulate body temperature and a carbon-capture project that used enzymes.
"He had as good relationships with Republicans as he did with Democrats as the first director of ARPA-E, and he took the time to get to know key legislators personally," said Mr Navin, who is also a former acting chief of staff at the Energy Department.
Mr Majumdar went on to serve as vice-president for energy at Alphabet Inc's Google before taking the job at Stanford. At Google he created energy technology initiatives with a focus on the intersection of data, computing and the electricity grid, according to his online Stanford biography.
"Between his stints at ARPA-E and as the acting undersecretary, Arun has developed a unique and deep understanding of both the key technologies we'll need to build a strong, job growth-oriented, carbon-free economy and the tools the department has to make it happen," said Mr Mike Carr, a strategic adviser at Boundary Stone Partners who previously served as a principal deputy secretary at the Energy Department under Mr Obama.