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FYI Number 25: February 25, 2005

Orbach Discusses FY06 Office of Science Funding Request

On February 7, the day President Bush's FY 2006 budget request was released, DOE Office of Science Director Ray Orbach discussed the request for his Office, its impacts, and some of the justifications behind the budget numbers. He acknowledged several times that the tightness of the budget required priority-setting, and explained that his choices were determined by the goal of maintaining U.S. leadership in science. He warned that the budget constraints "are not going to go away in 2007 [and] it's going to be a difficult four years."

The request would cut Office of Science funding by 3.8 percent from the current year, to $3,462.7 million. This is below both FY 2004 and FY 2005 levels (see While Basic Energy Science and Fusion Energy Sciences would be increased, the High Energy and Nuclear Physics programs would both be reduced below FY 2004 and FY 2005 levels. Biological and Environmental Research, Advanced Scientific Computing Research, Scientific Laboratory Infrastructure, and Workforce Development for Teachers and Scientists would experience reductions from FY 2005 levels.

Given that FY 2006 would be "a difficult budget year for us, for the U.S.," Orbach thought that his office had been "very well treated." In the scheme of things, he said, "we're doing just fine." If the congressionally-directed earmarked projects from the FY 2005 budget are removed for purposes of comparison, he noted, the FY 2006 request is only 1.6 percent less than FY 2005 funding.

Orbach explained that the budget priorities were chosen to keep the U.S. "at the forefront across the spectrum of science" that his office supports. He pointed out that a significant amount of funding would go to starting operations at several new facilities, including the Spallation Neutron Source (SNS), the Linac Coherent Light source, and four of five planned Nanoscale Science Research Centers. These centers, he said, "are unique," and would give U.S. scientists an edge over any in the world. It would be "thrilling," he added, to "start to see them operate."

Regarding the SNS, Orbach called it "a magnificent new machine" that would be an order of magnitude more intense than any neutron source in the world, and would provide two decades of capability that "no one else has."

Orbach also highlighted research in climate change, the Genomes to Life program, and advanced computing, stating that he believed "computation can become the third leg of scientific discovery." Orbach said that the FY 2006 request includes funding for a leadership class machine that could simulate a supernova collapse.

In the High Energy Physics program, Orbach noted that the BTeV program would not be continued. Instead, he said, the lab's future might lie in either neutrino research or a linear collider, although he could not predict "whether the linear collider will be built." Right now, he said, he wanted to run Fermilab "till it's a smoking ruin" to get as much science out of it as possible. While he expected the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Europe to start operations in 2008, Orbach declared, "there's still a lot of life left at Fermilab; it won't just disappear when the LHC turns on."

When asked about R&D funding for the Rare Isotope Accelerator (RIA), Orbach said that "the situation is complicated." He remarked that continuing budget pressures would make building the RIA in the next few years "a cute trick." He noted that the Nuclear Sciences Advisory Committee had supported the construction of RIA if it did not have an impact on other nuclear programs. Stating that "I don't think isolation is feasible in the current budget climate," Orbach said he hoped to go back to the advisory committee and ask for further prioritization, possibly by May or June. At this time, he has elected not to go forward with a request for proposal for RIA. It is "frozen till we have a better sense of the landscape," he said.

Asked about the effect on the domestic fusion budget of ramped-up funding for the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), Orbach replied that while there would be some impact, he was hoping to reorient the domestic fusion program toward research that would support ITER. He said he was trying to figure out "what parts of the domestic program fit best with ITER...and support operations at those facilities." Given the tight budget situation, he said, the Office of Science is "trying to get the optimum use of those funds for the purposes we have in mind."

In discussing the request's drastic reductions to operating times at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (down by 61 percent) and the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (down by 29 percent), Orbach said that in order to build new facilities, "some things have to give.... That's the consequence of priorities." Asked how the reduced operating times might affect students using the facilities, Orbach agreed that it is a problem "we're keenly sensitive to." But he added that if existing facilities are run at 100 percent, and proposed facilities are not built, "what happens to the next generation of students?" Orbach explained that he "tried to balance opportunities in the future against the present," and that he wanted "to give American kids an edge no other country can provide." That may mean some "tough years," he admitted, and universities may have to provide more support for graduate students. "I think the human costs...are very real," he said. "We do take that into account as best we can" in trying to make the best decisions possible, he said, but "frankly, only time will tell."

Audrey T. Leath
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics

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