Important Hearings for DOE Science Programs DOE's Acting Director of the Office of Science, James Decker, testified in front of two House subcommittees in recent weeks on the Energy Department's FY 2001 request for its science programs. Yesterday he spoke to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development; on March 1 he appeared before the House Science Subcommittee on Energy and Environment.
The eleven members of the House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee are some of the most important people in determining the actual FY 2001 budget for the Office of Science programs. Yesterday's two hour hearing by this subcommittee provides good insight into the committee's thinking about the budget for DOE's Basic Energy Sciences, Fusion, High Energy Physics, and Nuclear Physics programs. All in all, the hearing went well.
Subcommittee chairman Ron Packard (R-CA) began the hearing by telling Decker, and two other directors, that the subcommittee was awaiting word from the House Budget Committee about how much money would be available for next year. He predicted that the subcommittee's money would be "very close to level funding," with the possibility of a modest decrease or increase. With this allocation, the subcommittee funds many of DOE's programs, as well as the water control projects of the Army Corps of Engineers.
Decker highlighted nanoscience, scientific computing research, microbial cell research, and bioengineering in his oral testimony. He told the subcommittee that "substantial progress" had been made on the Spallation Neutron Source, explaining that the seven conditions required by law for the facility had been met. Ground was broken for the SNS on September 15 in Tennessee. Decker also said that DOE was working to ensure a balance between new tools and initiatives and existing programs.
Rep. Peter Visclosky (D-IN) asked a series of questions about DOE's advanced scientific computing research initiative, wanting to know how it differed from the scientific simulation program now underway. In response to a different line of questions, Decker said he did "not see any administrative barriers" preventing future cooperation on research between the Office of Science and the weapons labs now under the control of the National Nuclear Security Administration. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) asked Decker why the requested fusion budget was less than the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (SEAB) had recommended. Decker replied it was necessary to balance funding among programs, saying "I wish we could have provided more money for fusion this year." He also told Frelinghuysen that DOE is aware of progress on ITER, which, Decker said, is projected to cost less than originally estimated. Ed Pastor (D-AZ) wanted to know about the location of a future materials science center and hydrogen production, while Joe Knollenberg (R-MI) pressed Decker about any attempt by DOE to circumvent Congress on the Kyoto agreement. Rep. Michael Forbes (D-NY), a leader in congressional opposition to Brookhaven's now- closed High Flux Beam Reactor (HFBR), told Decker he was "very proud" of Brookhaven and its facilities, lauding the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider. Forbes asked about the management of Brookhaven through the DOE Chicago Field Office, and the charging of clean up costs to the lab's scientific budget.
Chairman Packard saved his questions for the end. He was concerned, as were other members, about the price of gasoline and heating fuel, and wanted to know from one of the other witnesses if renewable energy could be used be offer immediate relief. Packard asked Decker about the construction of new facilities while existing ones are underfunded. Decker replied that more money was being requested for facility operation, although he admitted that there were some budget constraints at High Energy Physics facilities. Packard wanted to know about the status of the Spallation Neutron Source, Decker saying that it "looks like it is going well," with it being "pretty much on schedule." The chairman also asked about the impacts of a proposed cut in the advanced computing budget, Decker cautioning that it would have major effects. Packard also wanted to know about SLAC funding, and how work on the next linear collider was affecting day-to-day operations. There has been "a difficult trade-off" said Decker. The chairman was quite interested in how DOE is using the Internet and other forms of telecommunications to reduce DOE's travel budget. Decker responded that face-to-face interaction at scientific conferences was very productive. Packard replied that the subcommittee would be responsive to DOE requests for new communications technologies so that DOE scientists would "do less and less actual travel."
Packard concluded the hearing by telling the witnesses "we do recognize the value of the work you are doing." How this translates into proposed dollars should be known by the end of May.
Many of the questions at the March 1 House Science Energy and Environment Subcommittee hearing had a similar focus. Chairman Ken Calvert (R-CA) asked the status of shutdown efforts on the HFBR and Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory's Tokamak Fusion Test Reactor (TFTR). Remarking that the FY 2001 request for Fusion Energy Sciences did not meet the higher levels authorized by the House last year and recommended by SEAB, he noted that it would reduce operating funds at fusion facilities in California and across the country. Decker admitted that while fusion funding would remain flat under the request, decontamination and decommissioning costs for TFTR would increase, causing cuts to operating funds at basically all fusion facilities. Jerry Costello (D-IL) questioned whether TFTR and HFBR were shut down to make room for experiments in other areas. Decker explained that TFTR was shut down when the fusion budget was slashed and DOE could no longer afford to operate it. Asked the status of ITER, Decker said the existing partners are looking at a reduced- cost design, and he thought it would require a decision by the partners to go forward with construction before the U.S. would join the project again.
Decker reported that the SNS request will enable progress on the conventional facilities, R&D on the target and accelerator portions, and long-lead procurements. Calvert added that the SNS request does not take into account a recent Tennessee decision to exempt the facility from state and local taxes; Decker said a revised SNS cost estimate would soon reflect that. To questions by Judy Biggert (R-IL) and Vern Ehlers (R-MI) about substantial reductions in the running times at several High Energy Physics facilities, Decker explained that run time was reduced for the Tevatron at Fermilab due to installation of two upgraded detectors, not for budgetary reasons. Regarding SLAC's B- Factory, he said its reduced running time was a trade-off for investments in the next generation of accelerators.
The advanced scientific computing research initiative was another topic of discussion; Decker said it differed from last year's scientific simulation initiative by emphasizing software over hardware and addressing all scientific applications rather than focusing on a few selected applications to drive progress.
Richard M. Jones, Audrey T. Leath