Last week, the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (see http://www.seab.energy.gov/)
was briefed on the "Final Report of the Task Force on the Future
of Science Programs at the Department of Energy." The Board has
now formally sent this report, prepared under the direction of Task
Force chairman Charles Vest, to Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham.
The December 10 plenary meeting started with remarks by Secretary Abraham.
He had high praise for the Task Force report (see /fyi/2003/135.html),
saying it would play an important role in shaping DOE during this century.
Board Chairman Peter McPherson opened the discussion on the report
by describing it as "an extremely thorough job." Since Vest
was unable to attend this meeting, William Martin, former deputy secretary
at DOE, briefed the Board. He explained that Vest personally wrote this
much-lauded report. Martin complimented Ray Orbach and Jim Decker for
their work at DOE, and praised the speech by Abraham at the National
Press Club on the 20-year facilities plan (see /fyi/2003/150.html).
Martin identified a key problem: "Nobody knows that DOE does
science." Despite major scientific accomplishments, including Nobel
prize-winning research, "nobody recognizes that," Martin said.
Expanding his remarks, Martin was critical of the title of "Director"
for the head of the DOE Office of Science, saying that it "sounds
like a mid-level bureaucrat." "In this particular town, science
seems to be devalued," he said, calling for an elevation of this
position to "Undersecretary of Science." Martin was quick
that his remarks were not a critique of the current administration,
which he thought was supportive of science, but rather an expression
of concern about the five to ten year future.
"How to get science up there?," Martin asked. He reinforced
for elevating the position of the director of the Office of Science.
Martin also called for providing sustained levels of support for DOE
research, and discussed the decaying infrastructure at many DOE
facilities. He described the Task Force's call for a landmark
project, and the construction of new large machines. "Let's go
it," he said.
Public comments were received during the Board's afternoon session
on the report. Steve Pierson, Head of Government Relations for the American
Physical Society, provided comments for ASTRA, the Alliance for Science
and Technology Research in America. APS and the American Institute of
Physics belong to ASTRA. Pierson explained that ASTRA endorses the Task
Force report, and stated, "ASTRA shares the Task Force's deep
concern for the decades of stagnant federal investment in the physical
sciences and engineering, and the resulting decay and deferred maintenance
at the national laboratories. . . ." Pierson's comments highlighted
ASTRA's support for strengthening DOE's investment in physical sciences
and advanced engineering research, and elevation of the position of
the director of the Office of Science. "The first step will
be to provide the funding in FY 05 for a robust start of the Administration's
20-year facility plan," he concluded. Other comments were offered
by a representative of the Association of American Universities and
the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges.
Earlier, the Energy Sciences Coalition, to which AIP and APS also belong,
sent a letter to Secretary Abraham about the report. Expressing "strong
support for the excellent work" by the Task Force, the letter stated
that the report "delivers a frank assessment of the future of science
programs at the Department of Energy." The letter continued, "To
help reverse these [decades-long stagnant] funding trends that threaten
the U.S. scientific enterprise, we agree with the report's recommendation
that the Department should be more aggressive in managing the nation's
physical science and engineering programs." "If the Office
of Science is to lead the Department toward achieving its national,
economic, and energy security goals, the steps outlined by the SEAB
report must be taken," this letter concluded, signed by the
coalition's chair, Kathryn Bannan.
APS President Myriam Sarachik also commented on the task force report
on behalf of the American Physical Society. In a December 8 letter to
Abraham, she wrote, "The recommendations are insightful and
constructive, with two standing out. We applaud the recommendations
that the Department should 'strengthen the federal investment in the
physical sciences and advanced engineering research' and should 'have
an Under Secretary for Science.' Strong and sustained increases in the
budget for the Office of Science are vital for achieving the Department's
missions. An Under Secretary for Science will help to realize the budget
increases, while raising DOE science to the status it deserves and ensuring
proper management of DOE's invaluable civilian research."
Visible and vocal support is building for the Department of Energy's
Office of Science. The release of the Task Force report, the 20-year
facilities report, and congressional agreement on substantially
higher science program authorization levels in the stalled energy
policy bill indicate a recognition of the importance of the science
research supported by DOE, and the need to reverse the decades-long
stagnant funding profile for this program. The next and very crucial
step in this process is the release of President's Bush FY 2005
budget request for the Office of Science. This budget is in the very
final stages of being prepared, with it being scheduled to go to
Congress the first week of February.