Ray Orbach on FY 2008 Funding Bill: "The Clock is Ticking"

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Publication date: 
21 September 2007

What has long been suspected is now obvious: the FY 2008 appropriations bills will not be completed by October 1, the start of the new fiscal year. Congressional leaders are readying a bill to continue funding into the first weeks of the fiscal year. No one on either end of Pennsylvania Avenue has developed a workable strategy to enact final appropriations bills.

The programs of DOE's Office of Science are at risk, Under Secretary for Science Raymond Orbach warned the Basic Energy Sciences Advisory Committee (BESAC) yesterday. During the first of a two-day meeting in suburban Maryland, Orbach spoke to BESAC about budget difficulties this year, his concerns about the FY 2008 appropriations bill, and the FY 2009 outlook. The Under Secretary also discussed an update that will be released next month of the twenty-year facilities plan, a similar European roadmap, and ARPA-Energy.

This budget year has been "a very difficult one for us," said Orbach. While very appreciative of the significant FY 2007 increase that Congress provided the Office of Science at a time when almost all other budgets were held flat, the ultimate Office of Science appropriation was only half of the Administration's request. Mindful that the FY 2006 budget with its 0.9 percent increase (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2005/160.html) had been "disastrous" for researchers, Orbach told BESAC that his office had "mortgaged our future" when allocating the FY 2007 budget. This year, money for researchers was given priority over that for construction, with the expectation that the Administration's FY 2008 request of $4,397.9 million (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2007/018.html) would offset the shift in construction funding. "Our gamble will have failed" if the FY 2008 appropriation does not provide the funding the Office of Science requested, warned Orbach, adding "a huge amount is riding with the FY 2008 budget."

Both the full House and the Senate Appropriations Committee have responded very favorably to the FY 2008 request. The two versions of the Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill fully funded the Administration's request (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2007/060.html and http://www.aip.org/fyi/2007/066.html .) But the Senate bill has yet to reach the floor, and until that happens, a final bill cannot be written. The fear is that the failure to get this bill, and the other appropriations bills passed, will result in a final Office of Science budget that will be significantly less than either the House or Senate envisioned. Orbach's worries are well founded: at this time last year the House bill had a 14.1 percent increase and the Senate bill a 16.6 percent increase for the Office of Science; the final bill provided a 5.6 percent increase. The resulting cut of $305 million from the original request was lost forever to the science community, said Orbach.

"The clock is ticking," on the FY 2008 bill Orbach told BESAC. The current thinking is that the Senate may consider its version of the Energy and Water Development bill in the first weeks of October. This would allow a conference to be held in mid-October that will decide, among other things, how earmarked projects will be funded. Without going into detail, Orbach said that there was some conference language that DOE disagrees with. If a bill can be passed that will be signed by President Bush then the Office of Science should be in good shape.

Also discussed was the "Abstract of the Interim Report on 'Facilities for the Future: A Twenty-Year Outlook.'" First released in November 2003 (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2003/150.html ) the update lists 28 facilities by priority: near-term priorities, mid-term priorities, and far-term priorities "according to the anticipated R&D time frame of the scientific opportunities they would address." Orbach explained that much has happened in the last four years, with some facilities being dropped while others have been shifted. The original plan is not exactly on track, he said, but neither is it off-track. Orbach reminded BESAC members that the doubling funding profile in the American Competitiveness Initiative is very important to construction funding. The update will be released on October 9.

Orbach also distributed a copy of the "European Roadmap for Research Infrastructures, Report 2006" that was issued by the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (see http://cordis.europa.eu/esfri/ .) The report explains that this is "the first European roadmap for new, large-scale Research Infrastructures, based on international peer-review." It is Orbach's hope that where DOE's facilities plan and the European roadmap overlap that cooperation can occur. While saying that it is "much nicer to have the facility in your backyard," Orbach explained that many of the envisioned facilities are so expensive that they cannot be built by a single nation. Japan is developing a similar roadmap, and China and India intend to do so. As an example of such cooperation at work, Orbach cited ITER, calling it a very good model for the proposed International Linear Collider.

In concluding remarks, Orbach spoke of the challenge that will be involved in keeping young researchers in the United States in the fields of fusion and high energy physics, since major facilities for each are being built overseas. If the U.S. does not have the most advanced tools, these researchers will go elsewhere.

In response to a question about DOE's role in education, Orbach replied that the recently enacted America COMPETES Act requires the department to greatly expand its role. Major emphasis will be placed on diversity.

Finally, responding to an inquiry about the newly authorized ARPA-E, Orbach said the goal of the agency is "laudable," but there is the need to develop the agency's structure. Orbach stated that while a director must be named for ARPA-E, President Bush will not seek appropriations for the new agency. An August 9 statement regarding the President's signing of the COMPETES Act remarked: "The bill creates over 30 new programs that are mostly duplicative or counterproductive – including a new Department of Energy agency to fund late-stage technology development more appropriately left to the private sector – and also provides excessive authorization for existing programs. Accordingly, the President will request funding in his 2009 budget for those authorizations that support the focused priorities of the ACI, but will not propose excessive or duplicative funding based on authorizations in the bill."

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