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FYI Number 19: February 23, 2001

Recent Developments: The Department of Energy


Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this month on DOE's national security programs. Committee chairman John Warner's (R-VA) opening comments set the tone for this uneventful hearing, Warner saying how pleased he was that President Bush selected Abraham for this position. "I hope that we can put that debate behind us," Warner then said when citing the establishment of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

Abraham's testimony was straightforward: "I fully supported the establishment of the NNSA when I was in the Senate and continue to support it today." In response to Warner's question about the relationship between NNSA Director General John Gordon and Abraham, the secretary said, "General Gordon and I have established a very productive working partnership and I am confident that this new entity will be successful."

In reply to other questions, Abraham said that it will take at least several years to determine if science-based testing of nuclear weapons will work. He told the committee that the Defense Department will decide if new nuclear weapons should be developed. Abraham remarked on the need to attract the best and brightest talent to work in the national laboratories, and spoke of the decline in the laboratories' infrastructure. No trade off need be made, he said, in maintaining strong security and strong employee morale in the laboratories. Finally, Abraham advocated the use of a "science-based process" to make decisions about nuclear waste disposal.


Earlier this month, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Ranking Democratic Member Jeff Bingaman (D-New Mexico) sent a letter to President Bush on the budget for the DOE Office of Science. Included with this letter was a similar December letter to President Clinton signed by 22 senators. The most recent letter states, "the [DOE science] Office's fiscal year 2001 budget, in constant dollars, is only at its 1990 level. During this 11- year period, the NIH has seen its budget rise by 75 percent. This stagnation in DOE's support for the physical sciences is reflected in declines in the share of U.S. research contributions to the leading scientific journals in physics. Since 1990, the share of European and Asian submissions has increased from 50 percent to 75 percent while the U.S. share has declined to 25 percent." The letter concludes: "We urge you to increase the Office of Science's support for the physical sciences, in your Budget Request for FY 2002, beyond its current 1990 level to one that is commensurate with the scientific opportunities, energy needs, and opportunities for ancillary economic impact for our nation."

Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Illinois), Vice Chair of the House Basic Research Subcommittee, also wrote letters to Secretary Abraham and Office of Management and Budget Director Mitchell Daniels urging an increase in funding for the DOE Office of Science.


The Chairpersons of the six external Advisory Committees sent a letter to Secretary Abraham earlier this year stating: "the Office of Science budget needs to keep pace with the growth of NIH and NSF. . . ." "We hope that the FY 2002 budget will begin an effort that will lead to a doubling of the budget of the DOE Office of Science over the next 5 years."


Local officials in Ohio and Kentucky and Members of Congress from Washington state are mobilizing to prevent rumored cuts in the Department of Energy's nuclear waste cleanup program.


President Bush gave a preview of what should be expected in his overall budget submission at his first press conference yesterday. To the question, "Where might we see you take the red pen to the budget?," the president replied: "This is a town where if you don't increase the budget by an expected number, it's considered a cut. We're going to slow the rate of growth of the budget down. It should come to no surprise of anybody that my budget is going to say loud and clear that the rate of growth of the budget - for example, from last year - was excessive.

"And so we'll be slowing the rate of growth of the budgets down; and that, evidently, is a cut. In my parlance, it's not a cut. When you increase spending, it's not a cut. I will be glad to explain some of the slowdowns and some of the increases, and perhaps a decrease or two, after we put the budget out." The president's budget outline goes to Congress next Wednesday, with all of the fine print expected in a larger submission during the first week of April.

Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
(301) 209-3095

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