"Both the Senate and the House have expressed their confidence
in you, the scientific community," Under Secretary for Science
Ray Orbach told the Basic Energy Sciences Advisory Committee on August
3. Orbach made a number of important points during his 45-minute presentation
about the FY 2007 appropriations outlook, his new position, how basic
and applied research programs at the Department will improve their communications
and coordination in the future, and ITER.
Orbach was very pleased with how the House and Senate appropriations
committees have fully funded the 14.1% requested increase for the Office
of Science (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2006/088.html.)
Of particular note was how the committees added additional money for
congressionally-earmarked projects above the President's request, something
that Orbach had not seen in the last five budget cycles. These recommended
increases demonstrate the confidence and commitment that Congress has
in the Office of Science, he said, adding that the consequences of a
doubling of the Office's budget over ten years would be "phenomenal."
When the Congress will finish work on the FY 2007 funding bill is uncertain,
with it looking "increasingly likely," Orbach told the committee,
that the legislation will not be finished until after the November election,
at least a full month into the new budget year. "We don't know"
what the consequences of that delay would be on DOE's science programs,
he added. If stop-gap funding continued at the current level it "would
really hurt the new initiatives" the department wants to start.
The Energy Policy Act, now one year old, established the position of
Under Secretary for Science. For the remainder of this Administration,
Orbach will "dual hat" this position and that of the Director
of the Office of Science (Orbach explained that future Energy Secretaries
will have to decide how to staff these positions.) On July 3, Energy
Secretary Samuel Bodman sent Orbach a memorandum stating: "the
primary responsibility of the Under Secretary for Science is to advance
the science portfolio at the Department of Energy and to strengthen
the contributions of science to all of the Department's activities in
collaboration with the Under Secretary and the Under Secretary for Nuclear
Security." In addition, the memo stated, "to work collaboratively
with the Under Secretary and Under Secretary for Nuclear Security to
review all applied research programs in the Department to better coordinate
these programs with the Department's basic research programs. . . ."
This memo, Orbach explained, gives him the mandate to work with the
Department's applied research programs. It is his goal to develop better
communications between basic and applied research programs at the Department,
while maintaining the integrity of the Office of Science. He quickly
added that he does not want to "fuzz" the boundaries between
Office of Science programs and applied research programs. Reaction within
the Department to increasing communications has been "very positive,"
Orbach gave a number of examples of what he envisions. The National
Ignition Facility is scheduled to come on line in 2010. Operation of
this facility will provide unanticipated "surprises," and
Orbach wants basic research scientists to be involved. He said it is
not clear where stockpile stewardship ends and science begins when the
NIF achieves ignition. Other examples of areas requiring collaboration
and coordination between basic and applied research programs are advanced
nuclear energy systems, alternative energy, hydrogen, materials, high-performance
computing, and carbon sequestration. "We can learn a lot"
at the interface, he told the committee.
In response to a question, Orbach said the department is still in the
process of responding to the Senate Appropriations Committee report
language calling for the establishment of a new Office of High Energy
Density Physics (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2006/088.html.)
He explained that the federal government has not dealt effectively with
research in this area, adding that a task force report on the opportunities
in this field is due in December.
Regarding ITER, Orbach said the agreement has now been sent to Congress
for its review. He anticipated there will be a formal signing of the
document in mid to late November of this year.