"It's pretty obvious, it won't be a bed of roses,"
the powerful chairman of the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations
Subcommittee warned at a sobering hearing on Wednesday. Senator Pete
Domenici (R-New Mexico) was describing the outlook on the budget for
the Department of Energy's Office of Science and other DOE science programs,
and, more generally, other discretionary spending for FY 2005.
Last summer, this subcommittee said the following in its report accompanying
its funding bill: "The Department of Energy is the leading source
of Federal investment for R&D facilities and fundamental research
in the physical sciences. Yet investment in the Department's R&D
has declined in constant dollars from $11,200,000,000 in 1980 to $7,700,000,000
in 2001. As a percentage of GDP, total Federal investment in the physical
sciences and engineering has been cut roughly in half since 1970."
Outlining concerns about physical science funding, workforce needs
and the declining number of American students in scientific and engineering
fields, the committee stated, "These trends must be reversed."
.) Referring to this language at the Wednesday hearing and the Bush
Administration's new request for the Office of Science, Domenici complained,
"Unfortunately, that language has been ignored."
While Domenici and the subcommittee's Ranking Minority Member, Harry
Reid (D-Nevada) are very powerful appropriators, they are up against
the same funding constraints as those facing their colleagues, such
Christopher Bond (R-Missouri) and Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland). Reid
said that the subcommittee faces "tremendous restraint on the budget."
From their remarks, it is clear that Domenici and Reid are strong
supporters of physical science, Reid calling it "one of the best
most appropriate investments" that the government can make. Reid
on to call the imbalance between funding for the life sciences and
physical sciences "staggering." Regarding the importance of
science programs, there are few party divisions on the committee. For
instance, while Domenici and fellow committee member Patty Murray (D-
Washington) are widely separated ideologically, he turned to her at
this hearing and said, "we need each other," saying it "is
tough budget." Murray nodded her agreement. "We are in this
deficit," Domenici continued, wondering aloud about what is needed
put funding for DOE's physical science programs on the same track as
that seen for other science agencies.
In his oral and written testimony, Office of Science Director Raymond
Orbach explained that the $3.4 billion Office of Science FY 2005 request
was down $68.5 million from the current year. However, after subtracting
almost $141 million in "Congressionally-directed projects"
(i.e., earmarks) in the current budget, the request is an increase of
$72.3 million. The request, Orbach said, "allows us to increase
support for high priority scientific research, increase operations at
our key scientific user facilities, keep major science construction
projects on schedule, and support new initiatives." In responding
to Orbach's testimony, Domenici praised the Office of Science for its
recent planning reports, and said of the twenty-year facilities plan,
"I think it's terrific." He added that he hoped the report
would receive wide exposure. Orbach told Domenici that with the budget
request, funding would be available for the plan's first six projects.
(The report can be viewed at http://www.sc.doe.gov/Sub/Facilities_for_future/facilities_future.htm
Also appearing with Orbach to describe their programs were Office of
Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology Director William Magwood IV and
Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Assistant Secretary
David Garman. Domenici reflects the sentiments of several members of
the subcommittee who are very supportive of nuclear energy, and
Domenici is quite unhappy with U.S. sentiment regarding nuclear power.
Domenici called America's constrained use of nuclear power "a terrible
mistake," later calling it the most "astounding failure .
. . that the
world has ever seen." The energy policy bill that Domenici has
on contains incentives for nuclear energy, and may come back before
Senate later this month. No questions were addressed to Garman about
research programs concerning hydrogen.
Looking ahead, Orbach and his colleagues will appear before the House
Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee on March 17.
Chairman David Hobson (R-Ohio) was quite supportive of the Office of
Science last year, recommending a 6.7% budget increase in his bill (the
final figure was 5.8%). Both Domenici and Hobson and their colleagues
realize the importance of the research conducted by the Office of
Science and other science-related programs at the Department of Energy.
This is not true for many Members of Congress, who are largely unaware
of these DOE programs. For Domenici and Hobson to have any chance to
put forward appropriations bills with strong numbers for DOE's science
programs they will need to have the active support of senators and
representatives. That support will only occur if Members of Congress
hear from their constituents.