Leaders in High Energy Physics Identify Priorities amid Budgetary Uncertainty

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Publication date: 
16 June 2017
Number: 
81

At this month’s meeting of the High Energy Physics Advisory Panel, Department of Energy and National Science Foundation officials outlined how they would prioritize funding under President Trump’s proposed budget cuts. It was also reported that there is interest in adding a decadal survey to the long-term planning process for high energy physics in the U.S.

On June 5 and 6, the High Energy Physics Advisory Panel (HEPAP), which advises the Department of Energy and National Science Foundation, met in Gaithersburg, Maryland. The budget for fiscal year 2018 loomed large as officials from DOE and NSF outlined to the panel their efforts to align future federal investment in high energy physics (HEP) with President Trump’s fiscal year 2018 budget request. Because the request entails substantial cuts to HEP programs, the officials emphasized that they have had to consider research priorities with unusual care. 

Slide decks from all the presentations at the HEPAP meeting can be accessed here.

Trump budget would force HEP into ‘precarious’ territory

Ultimately, DOE and NSF will formulate their final agendas for HEP around whatever appropriations Congress allocates. And lawmakers from both parties have expressed a desire to maintain funding for DOE research and for NSF. In the meantime, though, the president’s budget has forced officials to consider what should be funded with resources more tightly constrained than at any other time in recent history.

HEP funding 2010-2018.jpg

Funding for the DOE HEP Office from fiscal years 2010 through 2017 and the president’s budget request for fiscal year 2018.

A chart from a presentation at the June 2017 HEPAP meeting. It shows funding for the DOE HEP Office from fiscal years 2010 through 2017 and the president’s budget request for fiscal year 2018.  Click to enlarge.

(Image credit – DOE)

Public domain

The president’s budget allocates $673 million for the DOE HEP Office, or about 18 percent below the level enacted for fiscal year 2017. The budget also brings funding for HEP well below the level anticipated in “Scenario A,” the most tightly constrained of three budgetary scenarios considered in the 2014 Particle Physics Project Prioritization Panel (P5) report.

P5 referred to Scenario A as “precarious” because it approaches “the point beyond which hosting a large ($1B scale) project in the U.S. would not be possible while maintaining the other elements necessary for mission success.” The report warned, “Without the capability to host a large project, the U.S. would lose its position as a global leader in [HEP], and the international relationships that have been so productive would be fundamentally altered.”

doe-budget-scenarios-vs-approps.jpg

Recent appropriations for the DOE HEP Office as well as the president’s budget request for fiscal year 2018, against the two constrained funding scenarios laid out in the 2014 P5 report.

A chart from a presentation at the June 2017 HEPAP meeting. It shows recent appropriations for the DOE HEP Office as well as the president’s budget request for fiscal year 2018, against the two constrained funding scenarios laid out in the 2014 P5 report. A third funding scenario, “Scenario C,” outlined what would be possible with an unconstrained budget.  Click to enlarge.

(Image credit – DOE)

There is no single top-line number for HEP in NSF’s budget and the agency has not yet finalized its division-level numbers for fiscal year 2017. The NSF Physics Division’s overall funding level would decrease 8.5 percent from the fiscal year 2016 level to $253 million under the Trump budget.

Budget cuts would hit grants, project schedules

At the HEPAP meeting, Jim Siegrist, who heads the DOE HEP Office, said that DOE is still determining its funding priorities in view of the president’s budget. He noted that, in formulating an effective research program, the department is balancing priorities set out by the P5 report, the DOE Office of Science, and the Trump administration.

Siegrist reported that, under the Trump budget, the department would decrease funding available for DOE HEP research grants by over 20 percent, bringing it from $348 million this year to $273 million. This would also hasten what the P5 report called a long-term “erosion” in research funding, but Siegrist noted that DOE is intent on maintaining HEP research at about 40 percent of the office’s budget.

Within the HEP research budget, some smaller programs would see growth. A major increase in the office’s Computational Physics Research subprogram would be largely driven by a new initiative in quantum information science, which is a priority area for the DOE Office of Science as a whole. The accelerator stewardship program, which was first funded at $10 million in fiscal year 2014, would also increase, returning it close to its initial scale. The stewardship program facilitates access to national laboratory resources for organizations seeking to develop new, use-inspired accelerator technologies.

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Proposed changes in funding for different categories of research grants associated with President Trump’s budget request for the DOE HEP Office.

A table from a presentation at the June 2017 HEPAP meeting. It shows proposed changes in funding for different categories of research grants associated with President Trump’s budget request for the DOE HEP Office. SBIR/STTR grants, not included here, would total about $19 million. Click to enlarge.

(Image credit – DOE)

Public domain

No current or in-development DOE projects would be terminated under the Trump budget, but there would be significant schedule adjustments:

  • The Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI) at Kitt Peak National Observatory, currently scheduled to begin operations at next year, would be rebaselined.
  • The fabrication phase of the Super Cryogenic Dark Matter Search (SuperCDMS) experiment based at the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNOLAB) in Canada would be delayed.
  • The Facility for Advanced Accelerator Experimental Tests II (FACET-II) project at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory would be delayed.
  • Investment in the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility at Fermilab and its Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE), which is co-located with the Sanford Undeground Research Facility in South Dakota, would be slowed.
  • Fermilab’s Proton Improvement Plan-II would also be slowed.

Siegrist also said there is a preliminary proposal to operate the Fermilab Accelerator Complex for 1,800 hours, which is only 37.5 percent of its optimal operating schedule.

The Trump budget’s potential impact on Fermilab (and Argonne National Laboratory) has already attracted attention from the Illinois Democratic congressional delegation, who have requested from DOE a tally of the job losses that would result. According to an estimate provided to Crain’s Chicago Business by the office of Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-IL), whose district includes Fermilab, 150 to 200 of the lab’s 1,750 jobs would be subject to elimination.

Meanwhile, NSF’s overall funding for physics grants would decrease by about 13 percent to $152 million. While a precise figure for NSF HEP grants is unavailable, in fiscal year 2016 about $50 million, or 29 percent of all physics grant funding, was awarded to proposals in elementary particle physics and particle astrophysics.

On the subject of facilities, NSF funding for the ATLAS and CMS detectors at CERN would decrease from $20 million to $16 million, but an additional $6.3 million in new funds would be allotted to preparations for upgrading the detectors. There would also be $5 million in dedicated funding for the new Center for Bright Beams at Cornell University.

[Update, 6/21/2017: NSF also indicates that it will not hold a regular competition for its accelerator physics program in fiscal year 2018. The program has been in place since fiscal year 2014 and currently offers about $5 million in grants annually.]

Amid short-term uncertainty, long-term planning continues

Congress could well turn back the cuts for which DOE and NSF are preparing, but certainty on that question must await the final enactment of appropriations legislation. Some reports suggest that Congress and the Trump administration may try to expedite this work. However, even under normal circumstances, appropriations are rarely completed by the beginning of the fiscal year on Oct. 1, and this year the process is months behind the usual schedule.

Looking slightly further out, much as the seven-month delay in fiscal year 2017 appropriations has delayed fiscal year 2018 appropriations, there could be further knock-on effects. At the HEPAP meeting, Glen Crawford, who directs the DOE HEP Office’s Research and Technology Division, reported that DOE is not yet planning for fiscal year 2019, which is a process that would ordinarily have begun late last year.

As to the longer term, HEP community leaders have already begun thinking about the follow-up to the P5 report, anticipated for release in 2022. A new “Snowmass” process, organized by the American Physical Society, will once again kick off planning by exploring future science opportunities in detail. Crawford reported, though, that for this iteration there is also interest in initiating a decadal survey to be conducted through the National Academies.

The decadal survey, modeled on ones conducted for a number of other scientific fields, would evaluate opportunities turned up in the Snowmass process, particularly in the context of increasingly important international collaborations and in context of work in other areas of physics. Unlike other decadal surveys, though, this one would not recommend project priorities, which would still be left to the final P5 report. DOE and HEPAP are interested in obtaining community input on the decdal survey suggestion. 

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