By Ari Natter
Arun Majumdar, a Stanford University engineering professor who was named Tuesday to lead the Biden transition team for the agency, is on the short-list to be Energy secretary, 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 Jeff Navin, a co-founder and partner at Boundary Stone Partners, a Washington-based government affairs and communications firm.
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 $35 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 Majumdar, 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. Sherwood-Randall, a Rhodes Scholar who also served as a deputy assistant Defense secretary in the Clinton administration, previously worked as an adviser to Biden when he was the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“I’ve had the honor of working closely for and with President-elect Biden several times across my career and I know firsthand that the United States and the world will benefit tremendously from his leadership, integrity, and humanity,” Sherwood-Randall said in a statement provided to Bloomberg News. “While I won’t comment on public speculation about the Biden-Harris Administration, I have always believed there is no higher calling than serving our country.”
Majumdar has been told to resign from all boards and organizations associated with energy to eliminate perceived conflicts of interest, according to one person familiar with the communication. He has resigned from the board of the Electric Power Research Institute effective Tuesday, according to the institute.
“We understand his departure is for the broader good of our country,” said Arshad Mansoor, president of the institute.
Under Biden, the Energy Department is expected to have a major role in Covid-related economic stimulus that the president-elect has said would be one of his top priorities. Under President Barack Obama the department was instrumental in disseminating some $90 billion in clean energy stimulus spending under the Recovery Act in 2009.
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 Obama with the goal of helping investors translate science into breakthrough technologies. The program, which was targeted for elimination by 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 Navin, who is also a former acting chief of staff at the Energy Department.
Majumdar went on to serve as vice president for energy at Alphabet Inc.’s Google before taking the post 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 Mike Carr, a strategic adviser at Boundary Stone Partners who previously served as a principal deputy secretary at the Energy Department under Obama.