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FYI Number 122: November 6, 2002

Orbach Addresses Basic Energy Sciences Advisory Committee

Yesterday, the Basic Energy Sciences Advisory Committee (BESAC) met with DOE Office of Science Director Ray Orbach. Orbach and Patricia M. Dehmer, Director of the Office of Basic Energy Sciences, laid out an ambitious agenda for the committee, the program, and the Office of Science.

Orbach was the first speaker at this two-day committee meeting. He called Basic Energy Sciences the "key program" within his office, with the largest amount of funding ($1,020 million request for FY 2003). His initial remarks concerned a "terribly important" article in a recent issue of Science magazine concluding that regulations alone would be insufficient to reduce global warming. Orbach said global warming was on the "front burner of every nation" at a recent international conference, adding that new energy sources are needed.

Orbach next discussed a set of "Occasional Papers" issued by his office that describe, in laymen's language, opportunities in science. They cover topics as diverse as nanoscale science, fusion, and countering terrorism. These Occasional Papers will be the subject of a future FYI. Orbach discussed two of these papers on high performance computation and education. About computing, Orbach outlined how a new Japanese machine is much more powerful than its nearest American counterpart, and why corporations such as General Motors and General Electric need such power for computational prototypes. The Department of Energy will provide support for the development of a machine to overtake the Japanese model that could be managed like a light source for a variety of users, Orbach said. Turning to education, Orbach declared the present situation to be between catastrophic and disastrous. He intends to re-institute a program that was dropped by DOE in the mid-1990s that will bring teachers, and later students, to the national laboratories. The "evidence is compelling" that this program worked, Orbach stated, adding that the Office of Science would work closely with NSF and the U.S. Department of Education.

Regarding the FY 2003 budget, Orbach explained that he has "no idea what will happen in Congress." A final point in a handout distributed at the meeting was telling. On a page entitled, "The 2004 Budget and Beyond, " it declared: "Congress and the Administration must be 'sold' on the importance of scientific research performed by Office of Science."

Explaining the potential benefits of the Basic Energy Sciences Program was an organizing theme of the presentation by BES Director Dehmer. She described the lengthy budget process. The lead time is very long, she said, and her office needs guidance from BESAC now on the composition of the FY 2005 budget that will be sent to Congress in early 2004 (delay would push it into the FY 2006 budget.) Dehmer is interested in the committee's thinking about three to five broad scientific challenges for the program. These challenges will be incorporated into a ten-year Office of Science planning document that will be released next month as a draft, with the final version to be completed in March 2003. Topics discussed in her presentation included nanoscale science, catalysts, complex systems, and advanced computing. Work on the FY 2005 budget will start next April, she said.

There was then general discussion about several matters, including the budget process. Echoing the point made in the Orbach handout, committee members were told that the many people working on the budget need to be convinced about the value of the proposed research. Regarding efforts to double S&T budgets, members were advised that this concept alone is not a sufficient rationale for increases. The only way that a case can be made for such increases is by describing the compelling reasons for an investment. These reasons then serve as the basis for a budget increase.

The Basic Energy Sciences Advisory Committee will report its recommendations from this meeting on its website at

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

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