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FYI Number 60: May 2, 2001

House and Senate Hearings on FY 2002 DOE Science Request

Within the next few weeks, congressional committees on both sides of the Capitol will begin to draft legislation that will set the parameters of the FY 2002 budget for the Department of Energy's Office of Science. The Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee held a hearing yesterday on the Office of Science request. Last week, the House Subcommittee on Energy reviewed the DOE request.

Both hearings examined the Office of Science and other DOE programs. As might be expected, given the soaring price of gasoline, electricity shortages in California, and concern about the future supply and price of natural gas, the questions asked by senators and representatives focused on energy. At yesterday's Senate appropriations subcommittee hearing, few senators were present because of scheduling difficulties. Chairman Pete Domenici (R-NM), who is very supportive of DOE, was unable to attend this hearing. Ranking Democratic Member Harry Reid (D-NV) told the DOE witnesses that "we have some real problems with these numbers." "It's really unbelievable," he continued, criticizing proposed cuts in traditional and renewable energy R&D. He told the DOE officials that they "should take the message back to the administration that these cuts simply won't happen," and that the department and the Office of Management and Budget should be prepared to spend more money in FY 2002 than they requested.

Several senators were interested in the outlook for nuclear energy. Larry Craig (R-ID) asked a series of questions about research about nuclear engineering at DOE's Idaho laboratory and the effect that the administration's budget request would have on its operations. Craig spoke highly of DOE becoming involved in using its supercomputers to produce a climate change model. Robert Bennett (R-UT) also voiced support for nuclear power, and asked about the recycling of spent fuel. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) heavily criticized the administration's proposed cut of 36% in renewable energy research funding. He did not accept the explanation from the DOE witness about the administration's future plans, Dorgan saying "you don't launch from a hole."

There were no questions in this 70-minute hearing for James Decker, Acting Director of the Office of Science. Decker told the senators that the last year had been a very productive one in areas ranging from research on the Standard Model to the human genome. He assured the senators that the Spallation Neutron Source is on budget and schedule, with completion due in 2006. The FY 2002 request balances support for existing projects and new opportunities, Decker told the subcommittee.

Decker was also a witness at an April 26 hearing of the House Subcommittee on Energy. Also testifying was George H. Trilling, President of the American Physical Society. Subcommittee chairman Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) told the witnesses that "when I first saw the budget [request] I was in shock," and described how it was not until he was briefed by the Office of Management and Budget that he agreed to sign the Views and Estimates report issued by the Science Committee (see FYI #35). Bartlett supported the administration's approach of using tax credits and the market, instead of government officials, to make R&D choices.

Nevertheless, at several times during the hearing Bartlett said that the request for basic research was too low, at one point saying it was "grossly under funding" such research. Ranking Democratic Member Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) acknowledged that the witnesses were limited in explaining the Bush Administration's position since they were career civil servants and hold over Clinton Administration officials. She called the requested reductions "extremely shocking," and said that progress in some areas was in "imminent peril." Almost all of the questions at this hearing centered on energy R&D. In response to a question from Bartlett, Dexter said that private research funding in the physical sciences had been significantly reduced because of the "pressure to have very good bottom line profits."

Trilling testified that:

"The presidential request for DOE R&D for FY 2002 is causing considerable concern among many members of the science community and among many science policymakers. It would exacerbate the trend that has seen NIH come to dominate the federal civilian research portfolio, an unbalanced condition that policy makers in both political parties have noted in recent years."

He later stated:

"...this is not a forward-looking budget. It is one that would reduce the education and training programs of future scientists at a time when industry tells us they are in short supply. It would make us even more dependent on supplies of foreign scientists and make the H1B vis issue a permanent specter on the horizon. The budget would also make it more difficult for DOE to operate effectively many of its major facilities, such as synchrotron light sources, that are in heavy demand by industrial users and researchers from the biomedical community. These facilities are considered jewels in the federal R&D enterprise. President Bush's proposal does not treat them as such."

Trilling said that the administration's FY 2002 request would "turn the clock back" for DOE, NASA, and NSF.

The House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee will hold a hearing on the FY 2002 request on May 10.


Richard M. Jones
Public Information Division
American Institute of Physics
fyi@aip.org
(301) 209-3095

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