This week's meeting of the Basic Energy Sciences Advisory Committee
(BESAC) gave senior officials of the DOE Office of Science an opportunity
to comment on the FY 2006 Energy and Water Development Appropriations
Bill that was recently passed by the House. Office of Science Director
Ray Orbach was obviously pleased with the House bill that contained
a 1.8% or $66.2 million increase in the Office of Science budget, but
advised committee members, "don't spend it yet."
There is good reason to be guardedly optimistic about the House action,
since the Office of Science began this FY 2006 cycle with a Bush Administration
request that was 3.8% less than the current budget, and less than the
FY 2004 comparable appropriation (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2005/072.html.)
Patricia Dehmer, Director of the Office of Basic Energy Sciences, was
upbeat in her comments, calling the 6.2% budget increase in the House
bill for her office "remarkably good news" that would "fix
a lot of problems." Dehmer cited a BESAC report (see
http://www.aip.org/fyi/2004/115.html) in 2002 outlining the importance
of BES programs in securing America's energy future. Of particular importance,
she said, was the report's recommendation that "BESAC believes
that a new national energy research program is essential and must be
initiated with the intensity and commitment of the Manhattan Project,
and sustained until this problem is solved." A subsequent hydrogen
energy report (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2003/109.html)
and its dissemination strategy was called by Dehmer "a model of
how things should go in the future." She also reported that a recent
workshop on solar energy research needs was also "extremely successful."
The challenge, she told committee members, was to make the right decisions
for future research.
Orbach's comments centered on the rationale underlying the FY 2006
request. "If we do science," he said, "that science should
be the best in the world." Merely being "good is not good
enough." But tight budget restraints, driven in part by the Administration's
intent to halve the federal deficit before the president leaves office,
required that difficult choices had to be made, said Orbach.
Orbach presented an impassioned case for the support of DOE science.
He deplored the cancellation of the Superconducting Super Collider in
1993, saying that the freed-up money was not transferred to other DOE
science programs. Saying that the controversy about the facility "worked
against all of our interests," Orbach said the "death of the
SSC was a catastrophe," for American researchers and for science
as a whole. As a result, in high energy physics research, "we are
not the prime movers," Orbach saying that the U.S. "bought
our way in," as users of the LHC. The result, he said, was that
high energy physicists will have to buy airline tickets to do their
future research; Orbach wants American scientists to be able to drive
to cutting-edge U.S. facilities. "The issue before us is world
leadership," he said, "we want to give our people something
to work with."
Before concluding his remarks Orbach raised several other points. He
recognized that the proportion of his Office's budget devoted to research
has declined from 49% in FY 2004 to a requested 45% in FY 2006. "This
is dangerous . . . a serious issue for us," he said. About ITER,
Orbach stated, "will it work; I don't know." He called fusion
energy the only credible source to meet the world's future energy needs
that is environmentally neutral. Regarding the Neutrinos at the Main
Injector project at Fermilab, Orbach declared "we're in a race"
with the strategy being to run the machine as much as possible. He highlighted
the capabilities of the Linac Coherent Light Source at SLAC, noting
that it was a new start even when funding is so tight. Finally, Orbach
remarked that "the community is ready" to take on the research
challenges of hydrogen production, storage and use.