American Institute of Physics
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Richard M. Jones, Audrey T. Leath

HYDROGEN ENERGY: Within Congress and the Administration, a consensus is growing that the U.S. should support R&D on the use of hydrogen as an energy carrier. At recent hearings, witnesses from the auto industry and environmental groups agreed on hydrogen's potential. In its energy bill, the Senate has included targets for hydrogen-powered vehicles and a hydrogen fuel infrastructure, and at a European Union conference, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham called for international collaboration on hydrogen energy research and development.

OFFICE OF SCIENCE STRATEGIC PLAN: At a recent advisory committee meeting, the Director of DOE's Office of Science, Ray Orbach, announced that his office's soon-to-be-released 20-year strategic plan would include 29 major facilities projects. He said the plan, which is premised on authorizing legislation currently under consideration in Congress, would fully support the office's base programs and provide a prioritized list of new construction projects. Funding for the Office of Science was also addressed by a key House Science Committee staffer, who indicated that the office has not always been widely recognized as "a major funder of science," and that Orbach's efforts to raise the profile of his office may have a significant impact on future budgets.

K-12 SCIENCE EDUCATION: The arrival in Washington of the U.S. Physics Olympiad Team was the occasion for the American Association of Physics Teachers and the American Institute of Physics to send a policy statement to Congress, calling on Members to support K-12 science education by providing strong funding for the Math and Science Partnership programs. The Team members were honored at a Capitol Hill ceremony co-hosted by Reps. Vern Ehlers (R-MI) and Rush Holt (D-NJ). As appropriators work on the appropriations bills funding the Math and Science Partnerships, several other K-12 education bills have been introduced in the House that would attract students to teaching careers and improve teacher preparation and professional development.

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT LEGISLATION: Appropriations and authorization bills for the Department of Defense are working their way through Congress. During debate over the National Defense Authorization Act, both the House and Senate approved changes to provisions regulating nuclear weapons R&D. Among other provisions, each bill would allow research (but not engineering development or fabrication without congressional approval) on low-yield nuclear weapons. Quotes from the floor debates in the House and Senate are provided. Meanwhile, House appropriators would increase DOD science and technology funding by 10.4 percent over the current year in their FY 2004 Defense Appropriations bill.

PUBLIC COMMENT SOUGHT: The National Science Board has issued, for public comment, a draft report calling for a greater federal role in preparing the nation's future science and engineering workforce. The report states, "All stakeholders must mobilize and initiate efforts that increase the number of US citizens pursuing science and engineering studies and careers." The National Science Foundation is also seeking public comment on its Strategic Plan. The plan lays out three core strategies and describes how the foundation establishes priorities and allocates resources.

APPROPRIATIONS BILLS: Congress is beginning to move on several FY 2004 appropriations bills, including those for the Department of Homeland Security and the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, and the Education Department Math and Science Partnerships.