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FYI Number 168: November 22, 2005

Senators Express Concern Over Layoffs and Run Times at RHIC and Jefferson Lab

Before the Senate passed the FY 2006 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill last week, senators discussed the negative impacts that a reduction in funding for the DOE Nuclear Physics program will have on two key facilities. As it now stands, the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at Brookhaven National Laboratory and the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility will have to reduce operating times, and, at least at RHIC, reduce staffing.

When the Bush Administration sent its FY 2006 budget request to Congress, it sought an 8.4% or $34.0 million reduction in the Nuclear Physics program budget, from $404.8 million to $370.7 million. The Administration acknowledged this cut would result in a 29% reduction in run time at the Jefferson Accelerator Facility and a 61% reduction in run time at RHIC.

Going into the conference to settle on the final version of the FY 2006 bill, it appeared that the Administration's suggested cut in the Nuclear Physics program budget would be rejected. The House's initial version of the bill had recommended FY 2006 funding a bit higher than what was then the current level. The Senate bill came in even higher, at almost $420 million. A DOE senior official called the outlook "very encouraging" at a meeting of the DOE/NSF Nuclear Science Advisory Committee in early September (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2005/128.html.)

Despite this promising outlook, the final appropriations bill funded the Nuclear Physics program at the level requested by the Administration, cutting the budget by 8.4% to $370.7 million (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2005/160.html.)

Laboratory officials are grappling with the projected impacts of the reduced budget. RHIC's scheduled December 2006 run will be delayed until late in FY 2006. It will be combined with the run for 2007 to afford the longest possible time for experimentation. Brookhaven's current hiring freeze will be extended, and officials estimate there could be as many as 100 scientific and support position layoffs between now and next October 1.

There is language in the FY 2006 Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill allowing DOE to reprogram, or shift, money from one program to another, as confirmed in the discussion that took place on the Senate floor that appears below. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) lead this November 14 discussion, highlighting the severe impacts of the reduced funding levels. She was joined by Senator John Warner (R-VA), who expressed concern about the reduced funding level, stating, "At the Jefferson Lab we need to invest in the 12GeV upgrade necessary to sustain the pace of scientific discovery, not cut programs." Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Senator George Allen (R-VA), expressed similar concerns. Their statements, and responses by Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM), the chairman of the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee and Senate Minority Leader (and appropriations subcommittee ranking member) Harry Reid (D-NV), follow:

"MS. CLINTON: First, I want to compliment the chairman and ranking member of the Energy and Water Subcommittee for their hard and successful work in leading the development of the Energy and Water bill that is before the body today. I know it is especially difficult to fund all of the important programs under the jurisdiction of this subcommittee, particularly in light of the significant needs of the Army Corps of Engineers to respond to the calamitous impact of Hurricane Katrina on the lives of so many Americans.

"However, it seems to me that the funding pressures faced by the subcommittee resulted in the programs of the Office of Science being funded at a level significantly below the value of these programs to the future security and economic health of the Nation.

"When the Senate passed the Energy and Water Appropriations bill, an appropriation of $419,741,000 was included for the Department of Energy's Nuclear Physics program, an increase of $49 million over the President's budget request, according to the Committee on Appropriations' report, to ensure full utilization of experimental facilities. The House-passed bill included an amount of $408,341,000, also including adequate funds to restore operation time of the facilities in the Nuclear Physics program.

"The conference report accompanying the bill before the Senate provides $370,741,000, the amount of the President's budget request. Due to severe budget constraints, the conferees were unable to retain the increases provided in the House and Senate bills for national user facilities, including the increase for the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, RHIC, at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York and the Jefferson Laboratory in Virginia. I understand the allocation for the conference bill reduced the total amount available. I also understand the Senate-passed bill was about $1.5 billion above the House bill and that the conference bill allocation provided for a split of that additional amount leaving an increase of $750 million over the House-passed bill. I further understand that the vast majority of the $750 million in new funding was provided to the Army Corps of Engineers for flood control and navigation projects in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina, Ophelia, Wilma and others. Under the circumstances, this was a wise investment of our Nation's resources.

"However, an unintended consequence of these cutbacks is a negative impact on the Brookhaven National Laboratory in my State of New York, where the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, known as RHIC, is a key nuclear physics facility with many user groups in our region and elsewhere. I am told that this amazing major facility will be severely impacted by the amount approved by the conference agreement for nuclear physics. We had urged the Committee to approve additional funds above the President's budget request to ensure the continued operations of this facility at last year's level. The budget request was inadequate to begin with, principally because of the increased power costs that have occurred in our area to operate the facility for experiments for approximately 30 weeks operating time. Unfortunately, the situation with the power costs has worsened.

"MR. WARNER: We are facing similar problems at the Jefferson Laboratory in Virginia. As the chairman knows, the Jefferson Lab in Newport News, VA, is one of our basic research labs that would be negatively impacted by this funding level.

"Specifically, as a result of this cut the Jefferson Lab will have to reduce the physics output of this world-leading laboratory by 25 percent. Just last month the National Academy of Sciences issued a report titled ‘Rising Above the Gathering Storm.' That report underscored that the Nation's economic health is seriously at risk without a sustained investment in science. The report noted that in Germany, 36 percent of undergraduates receive their degrees in science and engineering. In China the figure is 59 percent, and in Japan 66 percent. In the United States the corresponding figure is 32 percent.

"It seems to me that this is a time when the Nation needs to invest in science, not cut science programs. At the Jefferson Lab we need to invest in the 12GeV upgrade necessary to sustain the pace of scientific discovery, not cut programs.

"MR. SCHUMER: My understanding is that the conference amount for nuclear physics may not provide sufficient funds for the RHIC facility. Because of the increased power costs and other factors, I am advised that without an increase in funding it is possible that there will not be any experimental operations in this fiscal year. I think we can all agree that is a bad and unintended outcome.

"MR. ALLEN: Mr. Chairman, you and Senator Reid, the ranking member, have long been strong supporters of our national labs and specifically the work done at the Jefferson Lab and Brookhaven National Lab. The questions that we collectively pose relate to how we can repair the unintended damage done by this funding level. It is my understanding that the actual bill only provides funding for the Office of Science and that the Department has wide discretion to reallocate those funds among the various programs. Does the Department of Energy have the flexibility and authority to move funds around or to reprogram funding to help to alleviate situations such as this?

"MR. DOMENICI: The Department does, indeed, have broad reprogramming authority.

"MS. CLINTON: I understand that these reallocations or reprogramming usually require approval by the subcommittee. Will both the chairman and ranking member join us, in writing, in an effort to urge the Department to reprogram funds to ensure reasonable operating times for these vital national user facilities during fiscal year 2006?

"MR. DOMENICI: Thank you for highlighting this matter. Senator Reid and I agree that the programs of the Office of Science, including nuclear physics, merit appropriate consideration for additional funding under the circumstances. I appreciate the efforts of the Senators to provide examples of the impacts on one of our basic research laboratories of the funding levels provided by this conference agreement. I pledge my efforts to work with the Department and other Congressional leaders to help resolve this issue.

"MR. REID: I also pledge to work with the Department and affected Members of this body to reach an acceptable outcome."

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

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