Senator Bingaman Addresses DOE Concerns

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Publication date: 
14 February 2001

Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) spoke before the University Research Associate's Council of Presidents two weeks ago. In his remarks, excerpted below, Bingaman discussed his concerns about the department, legislation which he has sponsored, the need for support by the scientific community, and the weapons laboratories. Among his observations:


"...I have been a strong proponent of the science and technology programs at DOE for many years. In the last year or two, I have been increasingly concerned about the stature and health of the DOE programs funded by its Office of Science, which up until recently was headed by Dr. Millie Dresselhaus." "Along with a bipartisan group of 20-30 fellow Senators, we have strongly advocated in the last year that the Office of Science receive the same sort of treatment in the budget process accorded to the other principal science agencies in government, the NSF and the NIH. In doing this, we were joined by numerous Presidents of colleges and universities who also wrote and communicated with Congressional leadership. Together, we were successful last year in achieving the largest growth in the budget for the Office of Science in a decade."


"I plan to work with my colleagues in this Congress to maintain and increase this support. I hope that you will join in this effort again, as well. In addition to support for broadly increasing the budget for science and technology in DOE across the board, I am focusing on three specific target areas that I would like to briefly describe to you.

"The first is the area of advanced computational science in DOE." "I introduced a bill in the Senate laying out a multiple-year program of increased resources for advanced computation, both in the Advanced Scientific Computing Research program at DOE and in the basic science programs that would develop and use discipline-specific supercomputing hardware and software. Although this bill was not enacted into law, it played an important role in increasing the funding that was seen in the appropriations act for DOE. I have re- introduced this bill this week in the Senate, along with Senators Craig, Murray, and Schumer. Its bill number is S.193, and will be available in printed form in a few days on the web. We hope to use it to continue to build support for budget increases in this area.

"A second legislative initiative of mine has been to introduce a bill, S.90, that will guide DOE's program and investments in nanoscience and nanotechnology. Again, this is a critical, enabling area of research that can and will broad impacts on many scientific disciplines."

"A third legislative initiative that is under development is focusing specifically on the future of nuclear science and engineering in universities." "I am working on legislation with some of my colleagues that will set funding levels that will provide a stable baseline for universities, so that they can make long-term decisions and commitments related to faculty and institutional facilities."


"For these bills to have a positive impact on funding decisions in the Congressional appropriations process, it is not enough for proponents to introduce them. We need active help and support from the larger scientific community, and I invite you to examine these bills closely, to let us know how they might be improved, and to help us reach out to other Members of Congress who might support them."


"But the DOE laboratory system is coming under increasing stress from a number of sources. I do not believe that its long-term viability can be taken for granted. If the DOE labs were to slip from their current level of excellence, I think that there would be some important negative effects for the entire U.S. scientific and technical community. I believe that it is in the interest of the entire community to work together to see that the next 4 or 5 years leads to a refocusing and strengthening of the DOE laboratory system for the long term.

"The first source of stress on the laboratories is a structural divide enacted by the last Congress between the defense programs of the DOE, and the labs primarily associated with these missions, and the civilian programs of the Department and the rest of the labs that have been traditionally associated with those programs. This came about through the formation of the National Nuclear Security Administration (or NNSA) in 1999. The first Administrator of the NNSA, General John Gordon, has wisely chosen to emphasize the need to continue civilian programs at the so-called NNSA labs Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore, and Sandia. He developed a good working relationship with Dr. Millie Dresselhaus, who led the DOE Office of Science in the last Administration. But it is always unsettling to rely almost entirely on future incumbents of these two positions to have a appropriate attitude and working relationship towards each other. History shows that separate organizations have a propensity of going their own separate ways, and the organizational mentality in Washington can often be highly territorial.

"If future leaders in the NNSA and the rest of DOE do not work together as well as General Gordon and Dr. Dresselhaus did, it could be a real problem for the labs as research institutions of excellence. As you know, science and technology cannot be compartmentalized into neat defense and civilian pigeonholes. That's not how scientists at the DOE labs work many of them are supported by both defense and civilian parts of the DOE."

"In addition to the organizational difficulties of setting up a separate NNSA within DOE, the allegations of serious lapses in security over the past 3 years at DOE, and the political response in Washington, has led to a number of other serious pressures on all the DOE labs and their research excellence."


"We will need to make a concerted effort to revitalize the DOE laboratories as scientific institutions over the next few years, if we are to maintain their special contribution to DOE's missions and to the broader scientific and technical community of which you are a part. That will have to include both improvements to management policies that discourage scientists and engineers from coming to and remaining at the laboratories, and also attention to the aging physical infrastructure at many of the labs.

"I don't see efforts to work on these problems as being a zero-sum game with increasing R&D support for universities through both DOE and the other science and engineering funding agencies. I do think that they are important for all of us to work on, if we are to have a vibrant and varied structure for supporting and carrying out scientific and engineering research.

"I look forward to your help and support to make sure that we apply the best institutional management practices from the university sector at the DOE laboratories, and make sure that the roles of the universities and the DOE labs in maintaining our technological leadership."

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