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FYI Number 148: November 14, 2003

DOE Secretary Abraham Announces 20 Year DOE Facilities Plan

At a well-attended press conference and luncheon this Monday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham released the much anticipated report, "Facilities for the Future of Science: A Twenty-Year Outlook." The result of countless hours of discussions and meetings, and bearing the imprint of Office of Science Director Ray Orbach, the 45-page report charts future DOE science facility priorities. Future FYIs will be devoted to the content of the plan, the comments of a senior Department of Energy official, and initial reaction to the plan. This plan, and the full text of Abraham's remarks, can be viewed at www.sc.doe.gov/Sub/Facilities_for_future/facilities_future.htm Selections from his lengthy comments have been combined in the interest of space, and follow:

... if we are to continue that kind of success we need to look to the future. So I am here today to release a 20-year roadmap for future scientific facilities. These facilities and upgrades to our current inventory will revolutionize science and society. They are needed to extend the frontiers of science, to purse opportunities of enormous importance, and to maintain U.S. science primacy in the world.

We are the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences, accounting for approximately 40 percent of all federal funds in this area over the past decade.

If we want to remain the focal point of scientific discovery, we must look to the future. And that is why I am here today.

Today, I am pleased to announce the Department of Energy's 20-year plan for building the scientific research facilities of the future. It is our plan to keep the United States at the scientific frontier.

Nothing of this scope has ever been attempted by our Department, or indeed by any other science agency in government. We are not only planning two decades out, but we are prioritizing our facility needs across all fields of science supported by the Department of Energy.

In the 21st Century, the health and vitality of U.S. science and technology will depend upon the availability of the most advanced research facilities. Not only because science today is so complex, but because science now requires that chemists, physics, biologists that all fields of science work together. The facilities we propose today will bring the sciences under one roof and give researchers the tools they need to work their wonders.

Let me discuss the way we made our decisions and give you some flavor of the enormous benefits we see flowing from these new projects. The process we followed was transparent and interdisciplinary.

The Associate Directors of our six science divisions Basic Energy Sciences, Fusion Energy Sciences, High Energy Physics, Nuclear Physics, Advanced Scientific Computation, and Biological and Environmental Sciences were asked to list in rank order the major facilities necessary to maintain world scientific leadership in their programs over the next 20 years. Some 46 facilities were identified in this process.

This list was then submitted to the respective programs' Advisory Committees, which are composed of top scientists from universities, industry, and our laboratories. We asked these committees to analyze the scientific importance of each proposed facility and to add or subtract as they saw fit. The appetite for new facilities grew, and a total of 53 new projects were recommended. Then came the hard part.

The Director of our Office of Science, Raymond Orbach, reviewed these proposals, ordered them across disciplines, and recommended 28 be considered for funding over a 20-year planning horizon. This may appear unilateral, but the selection was informed by the best minds in all the affected fields. And, frankly, the alternative of decision by committee was not acceptable, because committees despite their best efforts are notorious for delivering compromise documents that too often settle on the lowest common denominator.

This effort has been endorsed by the directors of our science laboratories, who understand the importance of modern facilities for future scientific discovery. In addition, the Task Force on the Future of Science at the Department of Energy, which was established at my direction and is chaired by Dr. Charles Vest, President of MIT, has praised this effort in its recent report. It is gratifying that this effort has received support from those who understand the enterprise of science best.

This list of facilities is driven by science and the Department of Energy mission, nothing else. Our criteria were straightforward: Which facilities are most important for Department of Energy science over the next two decades, taking into account whether the prospects for construction were in the near, mid, or far-term?

Clearly, this document has implications for the budget. But it is not a budget document. It will be up to Congress and the Administration to determine how much to spend on science and on new scientific facilities and to balance them against other national priorities. Once that decision is made, however, we owe it to the American taxpayers to demonstrate that we have thoroughly evaluated what sequence of investment we believe best for the science we do at DOE.

Let me stress one point here. We believe this list of 28 facilities outlines to an important extent the future of science in America and indeed the world.

What I have discussed today is just a snapshot of the detailed roadmap we have drawn for our major science projects over the next two decades. We recognize that, from time to time, this prioritized list should be re-examined in light of discoveries in science that may offer new opportunities we cannot imagine today. But that should not be done casually.

The American taxpayers deserve to see how we would invest their money over the next 20 years. More than that, the public deserves to know what our priorities will be over that time period. They need to see that decisions of this magnitude are made after serious thought, and that their government can commit to long-range planning. We believe this list of 28 science facilities fulfills that responsibility.

Indeed, we think it is the cornerstone for the future of critical fields of science in America.

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

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