House FY 2012 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill: DOE Office of Science

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Publication date: 
17 June 2011
Number: 
73

On  Wednesday the full House Appropriations Committee approved, on a largely party  line basis, its version of an FY 2012 Energy and Water Development Appropriations  Bill.  This bill provides funding for the  Department of Energy, the Army Corps of Engineers, and several independent  agencies.

Total  funding in this bill- $30.6 billion - is close to that of the FY 2005  legislation.  The bill’s price tag is  down 3.3 percent, or more than $1 billion, from this year’s figure, and is  approximately 19 percent less than that requested by the Obama Administration.  Funding for the Office of Science would be  reduced by 0.9 percent under this bill.

There  is very extensive language in the committee report   accompanying this bill related to the Department of Energy’s Office of  Science.  That language – many provisions  of which are quite important- is below, along with the committee’s recommended  funding levels for the Office of Science and its various programs.  Note that paragraph breaks and [headings] have  been inserted in some instances, and that this FYI is unusually long. 

The  bill recommends the following changes in program budgets from this year:

  • Fusion  Energy Sciences: Up 8.1 percent
  • Nuclear  Physics: Up 2.2 percent
  • Advanced  Scientific Computing: Up 1.2 percent
  • Basic  Energy Sciences: Up 0.6 percent
  • High  Energy Physics: Up 0.2 percent
  • Biological  and Environmental Research: Down 10.6 percent

In  the introductory section of the report, under “Supporting American  Competitiveness,” the     committee  provides insight into its funding approach for DOE research:

“The  Department of Energy hosts research and development in its laboratories,  supports innovation by academia and industry, and provides market incentives to  promote clean energy and energy independence. The President, in his State of  the Union speech, emphasized     the  importance of continued work on clean energy technology research and  development for American competitiveness.   The Committee strongly agrees.

“However,  the Committee was concerned to see very little in the President’s request to  justify nearly $2 billion in increased funding to support the President’s  pledges. Simply increasing funding for a worthy objective does not in itself  constitute a success. Instead of such massive, unjustified increases, the  Committee’s recommendation includes funding for inherently governmental  functions, such as basic science, and highly-leveraged, limited government  involvement in the marketplace. Appropriations are focused on long-term research  and early-stage development, and high-risk, high-reward programs, areas which  have the potential to bring great benefits to society, but in which the private  sector finds little incentive to invest. 

“Additionally,  the recommendation reduces funding for large research and development accounts  with little, if any, track-record of rewarding achievement and terminating  failures. Instead, funding is redirected to more accountable projects and  programs.”

Also  in the introduction, in a section entitled “Project and Program Management,”  the appropriators state:

“Within  the Office of Science, the Committee has little insight into the success or  failure of billions of dollars in basic science grants, a deficit of  information which this report begins to address.  The Committee will continue to work with the  Department, and with outside entities that can provide additional perspective,  to improve management and oversight.”

Office  of Science

The  FY 2011 appropriation was $4,842.7 million     The  FY 2012 Administration request was 5,416.1 million     The  House Appropriations Committee recommends $4,800.0 million, a decrease of  0.9 percent or $42.7 million as compared to  the current budget

In  addition to a general description of the research supported by the Office of  Science, and its overall funding recommendations, the report states:

“Understanding  that harnessing scientific and technological ingenuity has long been at the  core of the nation’s prosperity, the Department has programs designed to  increase the number of underrepresented minorities in science, technology,  engineering, and mathematics (STEM) areas. The Committee encourages the  Department to maintain this commitment by engaging in competitions supporting  programs that increase the number of underrepresented college minorities in  STEM fields. The Secretary of Energy shall submit a report to the Congress  concurrent with the fiscal year 2013 budget request evaluating the effectiveness  of this initiative.”

Advanced  Scientific Computing

The  FY 2011 appropriation was $422.0 million     The  FY 2012 Administration request was $465.6 million     The  House Appropriations Committee recommends $427.1 million, an increase of 1.2  percent or $5.1 million as compared to the current budget

The  report language notes “The Committee continues to support science activities in  the United States that improve and develop the world’s fastest supercomputing  systems,” and later states “As both the Office of Science and the National  Nuclear Security Administration have vested interests in exascale computing,  the Committee commends efforts to collaborate on exascale research across these  two programs and encourages further coordination and collaboration.”  Later in this report, the committee calls for  a report on the development of an operational exascale platform, and encourages  DOE to involve small companies and research organizations working in this area.

Basic  Energy Sciences

The  FY 2011 appropriation was $1,678.2 million     The  FY 2012 Administration request was $1,985.0 million     The  House Appropriations Committee recommends $1,688.2 million, an increase of 0.6  percent or $10.0 million as compared to the current budget

There  is lengthy report language, excerpts of which follow:

[Energy  Innovation Hubs]

“The  recommendation includes $24,300,000 for the third year of the Fuels from  Sunlight Energy Innovation Hub. The Committee is encouraged that this Hub is  aggressively partnering with Energy Frontier Research Centers and other  Department-funded groups conducting research into catalysts, membranes, and  other areas that can contribute to the Hub’s mission.

“The  Department is directed to deliver to the Committee, not later than 60 days  after enactment of this Act, a report detailing: the current status of the Hub,  including number of employees and status of the Hub’s final offices and other  facilities; all milestones originally set forth for the Hub, including those  for the end of fiscal years 2010 and 2011; the Hub’s current performance in  meeting those milestones; the Hub’s milestones for fiscal years 2012, 2013 and  2014; and the specific milestones and performance criteria that the Hub must  meet in order to be considered for a second five-year term.

“Within  available funds, the recommendation includes $20,000,000 to establish an Energy  Innovation Hub for Batteries and Energy Storage. The Department is directed to  deliver to the     Committee,  not later than 90 days after enactment of this Act, a report detailing: a  timeline for selecting the awardee; draft organizational and research  milestones for the end of fiscal years 2012 through 2016; and specific criteria  the Hub must meet to be considered for extension beyond the initial five-year  term. The report must also identify how the Hub will work with other Department  of Energy programs and activities focusing on batteries and energy storage,  including any Energy Frontier Research Centers focusing on related research  areas.”

[Energy  Frontier Research Centers]

“From  within available funds, the recommendation includes no funds to establish new  Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs), the same as the request. The  Department first funded the existing EFRCs in fiscal year 2009, establishing 46  centers for initial five year periods to research five areas of science that  would enable energy innovation. The Committee supports the energy-focused  missions of the centers, as well as the increased visibility, transparency     and  accountability they bring to research conducted within Basic Energy Sciences.

“As  with other initiatives established for limited terms, such as the Energy  Innovation Hubs and BioEnergy Research Centers, the Department should not  assume that all, or even most, Energy Frontier Research Centers will be continued  beyond their fifth year in fiscal year 2013. Rather, each EFRC will be required  to demonstrate superior performance and results germane to the Department’s  energy-focused mission in order to receive an extension beyond the initial  five-year award. To prepare for that review process and to better inform the  Committee on the     performance  of these centers, the Department is directed to provide to the Committee, not  later than March 1, 2012, a report including the five-year research goals for  each EFRC, each center’s current status towards reaching those goals, and the  Department’s latest rating of each EFRC’s performance as they pass their  half-way point and the Committee considers funding for the last year of the initial  five-year awards.”

[EPSCoR]

“The  recommendation provides no funds, $8,520,000 below the request, for the  Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research.”

[Gas  Hydrates]

“The  Department proposed in the fiscal year 2011 budget request, and again this  year, to move gas hydrates research from the Office of Fossil Energy to the  Office of Science. As the proposed activities remain largely unchanged, this  activity is more appropriately and effectively located within the Office of  Fossil Energy. As such, no funding is included in the recommendation for Basic  Energy Sciences for the proposed new gas hydrates activity.”

[Project  Funding Termination]

“Terminations  of Underperforming Projects. -- Basic Energy Sciences research often operates  at the boundaries of human knowledge in pursuit of solutions to the  Department’s energy challenges.  In this  mission-focused pursuit, projects can often fail, either due to deficiencies of  the research team or simply due to unexpected obstacles encountered when  confronting some of the most difficult scientific problems. When a multi-year  project struggles to meet its goals, it is a difficult decision but may be the  best use of taxpayer dollars to terminate the project. The Committee is  concerned that this effective practice is not often implemented at the     Department  of Energy.

“The  Committee is encouraged by one example, the Advanced Research Projects Agency  -- Energy, which is closely monitoring all projects and actively considering  the termination of projects that fail to meet their challenging goals. However,  the Committee is concerned that Basic Energy Sciences is not holding its  research groups accountable in the same way, and that it is not terminating underperforming  grants.

“Further,  while a portion of Basic Energy Sciences research is awarded to known  recipients with defined goals - for example, to Energy Frontier Research  Centers and Energy Innovation Hubs -     more  than 80 percent of the $854,669,000 of research in the budget request for Basic  Energy Sciences lacks transparency to the public and to the Congress. The  Committee is concerned that, in light of this lack of transparency, research  activities receiving federal funding are not being held accountable to achieve  the goals that make Basic Energy Science so critical to American scientific  expertise and energy innovation. 

“While  free scientific exploration without use-inspired goals is important to  advancing science, innovation, and American intellectual property, research  funded under Department of Energy programs is ultimately centered on its core  energy-focused goals. Within that context, most Science research should have  concrete goals, and most research should have measurable performance. The  Department is therefore directed to create a performance ranking of all     ongoing  multi-year research projects across Basic Energy Sciences, including those at  universities, national laboratories, Energy Frontier Research Centers, Energy  Innovation Hubs and other recipients, by comparing current performance with  original project goals.

“The  Department is directed to terminate the lowest-ranking awards within Basic  Energy Sciences in the amount of $25,000,000, and to report to the Committee,  not later than March 15, 2012, on the results of the ranking exercise and  selected terminations. These terminations will ensure that taxpayer dollars go  only to the highest-performing projects, and will serve as a first step towards  increasing the accountability and effectiveness of the research in this important  program.”

Biological  and Environmental Research

The  FY 2011 appropriation was $611.8 million     The  FY 2012 Administration request was $717.9 million     The  House Appropriations Committee recommends $547.1 million, a decrease of 10.6 percent  or $64.7 million as compared to the current budget

The  report states: “The Committee supports activities that align closely with the  Department’s core missions and advance the nation’s leadership in intellectual property  generation and energy innovation,” and then explains the bill, as requested,  provides no funding for medical applications of artificial retinas.  The report continues:

[Climate  Change Research]

“The  Climate and Environmental Sciences program devotes the majority of its funding  to areas not directly related to the core mandate of science and technology  research leading to energy innovations.  Further,  climate research at the Department of Energy is closely related to activities  carried out in other federal agencies and may be better carried out by those  organizations. The Department proposes to eliminate medical research focused on  human applications in order to direct limited funds to on-mission purposes, and  the Department should apply the same principles to climate and atmospheric  research.”

[Bioenergy  Research Centers]

“The  Committee continues to support the goals of the Bioenergy Research Centers  (BRCs), which conduct science research aiming to develop the next generation of  economic fuels made from domestic plant sources that do not compete with the  nations’ food supply.  Successful breakthroughs  at the BRCs could result in technologies that could leapfrog current  incarnations of cellulosic biofuels and provide a path to substantially  reducing the nation’s oil imports.

“However,  these centers were never envisioned as permanent research institutions  dependent on federal funding, but instead as temporary and targeted initiatives  with five-year terms. In order to     receive  funding beyond fiscal year 2012, the fifth full year of funding, the Department  will need to fully justify to the Committee each center’s performance. The  Committee therefore directs the Department to provide to the Committee, not  later than February 6, 2012, a full evaluation of each Bioenergy Research  Center, a comparison of each center’s achievements with the Department’s  original targets, and the Department’s subsequent recommendation for     extension  or conclusion of each center.

“While  the Department has increased collaboration between the Bioenergy Research  Centers and its applied research and development programs, the Committee  encourages greater integration and cooperation among these activities in order  to more effectively advance biofuels solutions from the laboratories to  commercial production.”

Fusion  Energy Sciences

The  FY 2011 appropriation was $375.5 million     The  FY 2012 Administration request was $399.7 million     The  House Appropriations Committee recommends $406.0 million, an increase of  8.1 percent or $30.5 million as compared to  the current budget

The  report states:

[Inertial  Confinement Fusion]

“While  the National Nuclear Security Administration performs inertial confinement  fusion research for nuclear stockpile stewardship, the Office of Science has  historically focused on magnetic confinement fusion and other related research.  The Committee continues to strongly support magnetic confinement fusion  research both as a source of American scientific leadership and expertise, and  as a long-term effort to develop a clean energy alternative powered by domestic  resources. As a result of the program’s sole focus on magnetic fusion energy,  however, the Office of Science’s program does not have a broad framework for  pursuing research avenues related to inertial fusion energy.

“In  anticipation of achieving ignition at the National Ignition Facility - a  critical milestone in the demonstration of inertial confinement fusion’s  feasibility for energy production - the Department has commissioned a National  Academies study assessing the prospects for power generation with inertial  fusion energy and identifying obstacles and challenges that will assist in  developing a research and development roadmap. The Committee supports this  study and encourages the Department to move quickly upon completion of the  report to determine a proposed path forward for inertial fusion energy in the  event ignition is achieved.

“Further,  the Committee remains concerned that research expertise may be lost while the  Department awaits completion of the National Academies study, which is not due  until July of 2012. The Committee urges the Department to fully evaluate  existing research capabilities that do not fit easily within the existing  weapons-focused inertial and energy-focused magnetic confinement fusion programs,  such as krypton fluoride lasers and magneto-inertial fusion, but that may play  important roles if an inertial fusion energy program moves forward in future  years. The Department should take action to avoid irreversible losses in  expertise in these areas before completion of the National Academies study.”

[ITER]

“The  budget request proposes $105,000,000 for ITER, the first full-scale test  reactor for fusion energy. The Committee supports this project as an important  step in the development of fusion energy and takes seriously the Department’s  commitments to international collaborations. However, the Department of  Energy’s required contribution to ITER is expected to increase substantially in  the next several years, and the Committee is concerned that, while funding for  ITER will yield important advances to domestic superconductor and other  manufacturing capabilities, it may leave little budgetary room to continue  supporting critical American fusion     science  expertise. Further, the Department has not preemptively indicated how it is  planning for this impending budgetary challenge, nor has it created a clear  prioritization of activities within     Fusion  Energy Sciences to guide tradeoffs when budgets are tight.

“The  Department is therefore directed to submit a 10-year plan, not later than 12  months after enactment of this Act, on the Department’s proposed research and  development activities in magnetic fusion under four realistic budget  scenarios. The report shall (1) identify specific areas of fusion energy  research and enabling technology development in which the United States can and  should establish or solidify a lead in the global fusion energy development effort,  and (2) identify priorities for facility construction and facility decommissioning  under each of the four budget scenarios. The Department is encouraged to use a  similar approach adopted by the     Particle  Physics Project Prioritization Panel that developed a 10-year strategic plan  for the Department’s high energy physics program.”

High  Energy Physics

The  FY 2011 appropriation was $795.4 million     The  FY 2012 Administration request was $797.2 million     The  House Appropriations Committee recommends $797.2 million, an increase of  0.2 percent or $1.8 million as compared to  the current budget

The  report states:

[Large  Hadron Collider]

“The  United States led the world in high-energy particle physics for much of the  twentieth century, most recently as the host of Fermilab’s Tevatron  accelerator, which staged the world’s highest energy particle collisions for  several decades. As the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN ramps up operation  as the world’s leading experimental site for high-energy collider physics, the  Committee supports the Department of Energy’s significant ongoing contributions     to  this international collaboration probing the edges of scientific discovery on  the nature of the universe. The Committee also supports the Department’s  careful prioritization within this program and decision to invest in the  so-called ‘intensity frontier’’ of high-energy physics -- an area of science in  which the United States can become a global leader. In a time marked by the  need for fiscal restraint, the Department will be pressed to further prioritize  between these two competing directions within High Energy Physics.

[DUSEL]

“The  Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory (DUSEL) has been an  important component of the Department’s planning for the build-out of its  neutrino and dark matter experimental capabilities. The decision by the  National Science Foundation to discontinue funding for the underground  laboratory has created additional uncertainty for program planning and delayed  the Critical Decision 1 milestone for the Long Baseline Neutrino Experiment.

“As  the Department weighs alternatives, the Committee cautions the Department  against taking over the construction and long-term management of DUSEL.  Adopting management of yet     another  laboratory site would add budgetary and management burdens to an already  stressed program. However, the Committee supports the use of funding to  maintain the viability of the DUSEL underground laboratory, including  dewatering and maintaining security, in order to preserve it as an option while  the Department weighs the alternatives. Further, the Department is directed to  report to the Committee an assessment of alternatives to DUSEL and     its  recommendations for moving forward.”

Nuclear  Physics

The  FY 2011 appropriation was $540.1 million     The  FY 2012 Administration request was $605.3 million     The  House Appropriations Committee recommends $552.0 million, an increase of  2.2 percent or $11.9 million as compared to  the current budget

The  report states:

“The  Committee recommends $552,000,000 for Nuclear Physics, $11,886,000 above fiscal  year 2011 and $53,300,000 below the request.   The recommendation includes $24,000,000 for the Facility for Rare  Isotope Beams, $6,000,000 below the budget request.

“The Committee notes that the Nuclear Physics  program has unique experimental capabilities for testing materials under irradiative  environments. Materials stressed by intense radiation are important to many  technologies, including nuclear fission and nuclear fusion. After the  completion of the fusion energy experiment ITER, for example, the most  significant technical obstacle to construction of a fully-operational  demonstration fusion reactor is the development of containment materials that  can withstand a sustained high flux of neutrons without significant  degradation.  The Committee encourages  the Department to consider ways to strengthen productive cooperation between  Nuclear Physics and other programs at the Department of Energy to better  understand and develop materials that can withstand high levels of radiation.”