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FYI Number 64: May 18, 2001

Encouraging Appropriations Hearing for DOE Science Program

"And the same with science." With these words, House Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Sonny Callahan (R-AL) concluded an encouraging hearing on the FY 2002 DOE science program budget request. Callahan and his colleagues on the House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee had good things to say about DOE civilian programs at this May 10 hearing. Many of the subcommittee's Republicans and Democrats shared a common complaint, which was that the Administration's requests were too low.

Callahan started the hearing by saying that he and his fellow appropriators had some questions about DOE's budget requests for renewables, nuclear energy, and science programs. He was particularly critical of the requested 8.4% cut in the FY 2002 budget for the Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology program. Ranking Minority Member Peter Visclosky (D-IN) expressed similar concerns about the nuclear energy program, asking several questions about the university reactor program and the reasoning behind yet another review of the Fast Flux Test Reactor.

Several appropriators expressed support for Office of Science programs, Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) saying ""I certainly promote the work of physicists." In response to a question from Frelinghuysen about whether roughly 24% more than the Fusion Energy Sciences budget request could be "put to good use," James Decker, Acting Director of the Office of Science, said that additional opportunities existed to do good science.

Calling the Administration's proposed cuts a "meat ax" approach, Chet Edwards (D-TX) criticized the 36% reduction the administration is seeking in the DOE Renewable Energy Resources program. Under the FY 2002 request, solar energy research would be cut almost 54%. Geothermal technology development and hydrogen research would each be cut by 48%. Edwards was also upset about the proposed cut in nuclear power research. At this point, Chairman Callahan told the witnesses that he did not want DOE saying that nuclear energy research at universities could be cut because of Congress, but rather that it was because the Bush Administration had sought the reduction. "There will be consequences," Callahan said with a rising voice, if the administration implies otherwise.

In response to a series of questions from Rep. Zach Wamp (R- TN) about the Spallation Neutron Source, Decker reported that the project was on schedule and within budget, adding that "the management team is doing a very good job." Each of the partners in this effort is "pulling their weight," he added. Wamp also inquired about the nature of nanoscience research being supported by DOE and the National Science Foundation, asking if there was duplication of effort. Decker assured Wamp that each program had its own focus. Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), a new member of the subcommittee, also asked about nanoscience, and wanted to know "how does this relate . . . to my constituents?" Jo Ann Emerson's (R-MO) questions centered on renewable energy, while John Doolittle (R-CA) asked about the status of fuel cell technology, citing a recent article he had read in Popular Science.

In the second round of questions, Visclosky returned to the subject of the Fast Flux Test Reactor and isotope production. He also asked about the possibility of duplication of effort in nanoscience research with NSF. Visclosky voiced displeasure with the way in which four nanoscience research centers were selected, saying "I am not happy" that they were determined without competition. "The rich get richer" he exclaimed, adding "I am not ashamed" to earmark funding. Edwards probed about how the decision was made to cut nuclear energy and renewable energy budgets, asking if the Office of Management and Budget had sent a specific directive. It was not a directive, he was told, but rather an allocation that program officers had to work within.

The hearing wound to an end, with Callahan citing the recently agreed to Budget Resolution that constrained FY 2002 discretionary spending. He complimented the witnesses for "doing a good job," acknowledging that the budget requests had been written by others within the department. "The chairman is going to ignore" the requested budget cuts, he said, in an effort to maintain the current level of program funding. "And the same with science," Callahan told the witnesses and the audience, although in this case his intentions are a bit more difficult to discern, since most of the science program requests call for roughly flat funding. Chairman Callahan and his fellow appropriators demonstrated knowledge, appreciation and concern about the DOE science program. It was a good hearing.

Both the House and Senate appropriations subcommittees have now completed their hearings on the DOE science budget. The next step is for the subcommittees to receive their funding allocations so they can start drafting their bills. The budget resolution is not going to make this easy since it provided little additional money for science. Money is going to be much tighter for most federal programs, and the competition for dollars between science and other discretionary programs is going to get intense very quickly.

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

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