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FYI Number 110: October 8, 2002

Ray Orbach Looks Ahead

The budget for the DOE Office of Science has been essentially flat for a decade, a situation that its Director, Ray Orbach, states is causing "tremendous strain." His office is working with DOE advisory committees and professional societies on a strategic plan and a series of Occasional Papers which will identify "where scientific opportunities might lie."

The strategic plan, due in March, will prioritize scientific needs and drive future budget requests. It will not have a direct bearing on the FY 2004 request now under review at the Office of Management and Budget. The plan will provide direction for his Office, Orbach said, and is unlikely to recommend sharp program changes. Orbach hopes that the "beauty of the science" will result in higher budgets. "My job is to push hard," he said at a small roundtable briefing, predicting that the strategic plan will encourage the administration and the Congress to strengthen their support for the Office of Science.

Since Orbach came to the Department of Energy a year ago he has guided the development of nine Occasional Papers that explain, in nontechnical language, promising major research areas. The two- page exhibits are available at rontpage.htm. At yesterday's briefing Orbach highlighted three of these papers on scientific computing, education, and nanotechnology. During this and other presentations, Orbach has discussed the ramifications of the powerful Japanese Earth Simulator supercomputer. "The U.S. has lost the lead in climate science research," the Occasional Paper states. Closing this gap will require an aggressive and integrated five year investment program.

The future scientific and engineering workforce is also on Orbach's mind. The projections "are appalling" he stated, since half of all workers will be eligible for retirement within the next decade. DOE is getting back into K-12 science teacher programs, Orbach declared, reversing a mid-1990s decision to abandon a previous program. "We know the programs work," he said. As described in the Occasional Papers, the national laboratories will mentor teachers and students. The Director later described the "huge shortage" of accelerator physicists and engineers, and discussed his intention to target this deficiency through a graduate fellowship program

Orbach extolled nanotechnology's possibilities. The Occasional Paper does as well, saying "Now is the time. We can now do this research, make these breakthroughs, and enhance our lives as never before imagined."

During the briefing Orbach was asked about the fusion energy sciences program and the status of the Large Hadron Collider. He lauded the Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee's (FESAC) near unanimous conclusions about the next steps for the program (see FYI #102.) Orbach is looking forward to a December 1 National Academy report, as well as another report by FESAC that will chart the "path forward." Orbach's goal is to have power on the grid from a demonstration plant within 35 years. Regarding the construction of the Large Hadron Collider, Orbach declared that the U.S. is meeting its commitment, and noted the cost cap that controls the U.S. contribution.

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

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