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FYI Number 32: March 22, 2002

Senate Appropriations Subcommittee Hearing on FY 2003 DOE Request

The Department of Energy's Office of Science was described as "one of the finest scientific organizations in the world" by one of the key Members of Congress who will write the FY 2003 appropriations bill for DOE. These complimentary words were said by Chairman Harry Reid (D-NV) during a March 15 hearing of the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee.

Testifying on the FY 2003 request was Raymond L. Orbach, who less than 24 hours earlier had been sworn in as the new Director of the Office of Science. Other DOE officials testified about nuclear energy and radioactive waste management programs.

About the Office of Science request, Chairman Reid said that he was "by and large pleased with it," and hoped that "we can improve upon it." He then described the money provided to the Office of Science as "one of the best investments of tax dollars I can imagine." Ranking Minority Member Pete Domenici's (R-NM)'s remarks were similar in tone.

In describing the request, Orbach said "we think we can get the job done with the funds that have been recommended." Reid's first question to the new director was not about funding, but about how science programs contribute to homeland security. Orbach cited a number of Office of Science programs that have enhanced national security. Reid asked about new research opportunities, with Orbach outlining research on the human genome, new materials, and nanotech. In reply to a question about the recent fusion announcement, Orbach described the controversy about it within the scientific community, and said that carefully controlled experiments at Oak Ridge should provide additional results by mid-June. In a later exchange, both Reid and Orbach discussed the serious manpower problem facing the national laboratories, where one- half of the scientists will be eligible for retirement within the next ten years. Reid described recent on-site visits he had made to two national labs, saying he was struck by the intensity of the spirit of the researchers, and by "how little money they make."

Domenici's questions centered on the greatly reduced budget request for nuclear energy research, a program which he has championed. He wanted to know what role the Office of Science would have in the administration's climate change initiative. Orbach replied that research would be supported on improving the understanding of the carbon cycle.

Developing the FY 2003 appropriations bill for the Office of Science now moves behind closed doors. Both the House and Senate have concluded their hearings on the administration's request for DOE science programs, and draft bills are expected in the next sixty days.

In other action, both the House and Senate are working on their budget resolutions that set the broad parameters of future spending and taxing. The House-passed budget resolution did not specifically mention DOE science programs. The working draft for the Senate resolution stated that their number for DOE science programs in one budget category was $120 million over the administration's request. It also stated, notably, "The Chairman's mark also assumes enactment of the Energy Policy Act of 2002, which provides a net increase of $1.3 billion in budget authority over 10 years for DOE's science programs." While this assumption is for planning purposes, it does provide an indication of the thinking of Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) and the committee's majority who drafted this document. Both chambers set a higher number for "General Science, Space, and Technology" than the administration request (administration: $22.6 billion in budget authority; House, $22.7 billion; Senate, $22.9 billion.)

The House and Senate are now in recess through April 5.

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

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