The Director of DOE's Office of Science (OS), Ray Orbach, spoke recently
at the meetings of several physics-related advisory committees. On November
1, he spoke at a gathering of the joint DOE-NSF Nuclear Science Advisory
Committee (NSAC). As he has done on other occasions, Orbach talked about
his office's preparation of a series of "occasional papers"
to bring visibility to important S&T issues for his office. He also
discussed his preparation of a long-term strategic plan for OS, and
the impacts of 10 years of virtually flat budgets on the office. The
pressure on both laboratory and university physics programs is "almost
unbearable," Orbach said to the NSAC members. The achievements
of the nuclear physics programs are "more impressive" in that
context, he stated.
In addition to the occasional papers already completed, Orbach is seeking
NSAC's assistance on several forthcoming ones. The first would be an
initiative in accelerator science and engineering, to address the lack
of new initiatives and difficulty in keeping teams together from project
to project. Universities would be encouraged to offer curricula in this
field, while OS would provide support through research funding and graduate
student fellowships, to create what Orbach termed "a more steady
state of opportunities" in this area.
A second initiative would address international collaboration on large
science projects. "To my knowledge, there has not been a successful
international project in the construction and operation of a large-scale
facility," Orbach commented, citing the failure of the SSC and
the difficulties with the LHC budget during construction. ITER "may
be the first example of a truly international project," he noted,
but he has already determined that the European cost estimate of $4
billion is about $1 billion too low because it is based on 1990 dollars.
If countries can understand, and translate between, each others' pricing
structures and program management and "establish credibility"
in these areas, he said, "we can get those off the table"
and address the scientific opportunities.
Orbach is also starting to look across the next two decades to craft
a strategic plan for his office. From various advisory committees he
has received suggestions for 53 major construction projects of over
$50 million each, including the Rare Isotope Accelerator (RIA) for nuclear
physics and the Linear Collider for high-energy physics. He questioned
how to prioritize projects across fields, and wished for "some
wise committee" to make those decisions, but said he has never
seen that happen.
Returning to near-term budget issues, Orbach said the challenge for
FY 2003 would be simply "keeping house and home together."
If his office receives a funding increase, he said, the first priority
would be to "repair the damage that flat budgets over ten years
have done to us." Then, "if we ever get breathing room,"
he added, the vitality of the fields and scientific opportunities will
guide further investment.
Presentations were made to NSAC on the current situation and the FY
2003 outlook for the NSF and DOE nuclear physics programs. Both programs
are operating at FY 2002 funding levels under a continuing resolution,
with no estimate for when they will receive final FY 2003 appropriations.
In the last fiscal year, NSF nuclear physics did well through both Major
Research Instrumentation and Information Technology Research awards,
and may receive a healthy increase in the final FY 2003 appropriation,
as both House and Senate bills would provide a 14.8 percent increase
for NSF's Mathematics and Physical Sciences activity. The FY 2002 appropriation
for nuclear physics in DOE, however, was not even a cost-of-living increase,
reported Nuclear Physics Division Director Dennis Kovar, and if the
program has to continue under that funding level for much longer, he
warned, it would necessitate "severe changes" to the program.
The FY 2003 requested level of $382.4 million "would go a long
way toward addressing" the program's needs, he said. Even with
the full FY 2003 request, a case will still need to be made for additional
funds for facility operations, he said, but "in my mind, an even
higher priority is to get the research budget up" and improve support
for graduate students. "It makes no sense," he declared, "to
run the facilities if we don't have the researchers to get the science
NSAC members also heard presentations on a workshop exploring how the
nuclear science community can contribute to counter-terrorism efforts,
a cooperative grant program with the National Nuclear Security Administration,
and efforts to apply R&D investment criteria to basic research as
called for in the President's Management Agenda. For the FY 2003 budget
request, DOE's nuclear physics program was a "test case" for
developing and applying investment criteria, explained Senior Nuclear
Physics Advisor Stephen Steadman. Specific performance goals, performance
indicators, and FY 2003 performance targets were developed for the program.
For the 2004 fiscal year, other OS programs, as well as NASA, NSF, DOD,
and other agencies are incorporating such planning into their budget
requests. Steadman noted that performance targets may be modified if
the final appropriation differs from the request, and he pointed out
that performance is judged by a "portfolio" approach - if
several projects address a single goal, the portfolio is considered
successful if some, but not necessarily all, of the projects are successful.
Steadman said OS was hoping to use this process for "positive gain,"
while trying to avoid unintended consequences and "harming what
is good." OS is seeking the community's continued help to identify
meaningful, measurable targets, and Steadman hoped that the generally
outstanding quality of the basic research performed would lead, as the
management agenda indicates, to increased funding.