The Department of Energy's Office of Science was described as
"one of the finest scientific organizations in the world"
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
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
About the Office of Science request, Chairman Reid said that
he was "by and large pleased with it," and hoped that "we
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.