FY21 Budget Outlook: DOE Office of Science

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Publication date: 
9 October 2020

As Congress negotiates appropriations for fiscal year 2021, the House has proposed a marginal increase in the budget for the Department of Energy Office of Science while the Senate has not made any counterpart proposal public. House Democrats have also put forward an expansive package of “emergency” economic stimulus spending.

With fiscal year 2021 now underway, the Department of Energy Office of Science will operate with stopgap funding until after lawmakers finish negotiating spending legislation for the year. This summer, the House passed a bill that would provide mostly level funding for the office and its main component programs. The most notable proposed change is a 4% increase for the Advanced Scientific Computing Research program.

Unusually, counterpart proposals have not been released by the Senate. However, the chamber’s lead appropriator for DOE, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), did say in early spring that he objected to the Trump administration’s proposed cuts and would continue pressing for a major expansion in the department’s budget. Adding to budgetary uncertainty is the prospect the office could receive one-time pandemic-response funding, either through ordinary appropriations or special relief legislation.

Congress already provided $100 million to the office in March to support pandemic-related research. House Democrats have also included $6.25 billion in advance funding for 67 projects as part of a set of “emergency” economic stimulus measures they appended to the House’s DOE spending bill over Republican objections. Some of these projects are also experiencing pandemic-related cost increases. Further complicating matters, the House’s non-emergency proposals for some projects involve unexpected cuts, suggesting the Democrats may have shifted funding intended for them into the emergency package.

The House’s proposals for the Office of Science are detailed in both their bill and the accompanying committee report, and their non-emergency proposals are summarized in the chart below. Detailed figures are available in the FYI Federal Science Budget Tracker.


FY21 Budget Proposals: DOE Office of Science

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Cross-program direction

Quantum information science. The House report directs the Office of Science to spend $235 million on QIS across its programs, specifying at least $120 million is for research and at least $100 million is for the National QIS Research Centers required by the National Quantum Initiative Act. In August, DOE made five center awards, each worth $115 million spread over five years, contingent on congressional appropriations.

Artificial intelligence. The House would direct DOE to ramp up funding for artificial intelligence and machine learning activities across office programs from $71 million to $125 million, meeting the Trump administration’s request.

Office of Science reorganization. The House "acknowledges" DOE’s separation of isotope production activities from the Nuclear Physics program into their own office within the Office of Science, as well as its creation of another independent office for accelerator R&D and production. The department is directed to structure its fiscal year 2022 budget request accordingly.

Strategic Partnership Projects. The House report expresses concern that DOE has not received reimbursement for many projects conducted at its national labs by non-DOE entities and instructs the department to take steps to ensure timely payment.

Basic Energy Sciences


The undulator hall at SLAC’s Linac Coherent Light Source

The undulator hall at SLAC’s Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS), an X-ray free electron laser facility where the recent installation of new hard and soft X-ray undulators mark the first steps in opening the complementary, state-of-the-art LCLS-II facility. However, pandemic-related delays have left the project in need of additional funding, which would be provided through the House’s “emergency” funding proposal. A separate, follow-on upgrade to LCLS-II is still in its early stages and would receive both ordinary and emergency funding under the House proposal.

(Image credit – Alberto Gamazo / SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)

Facility upgrades. The House proposes to sustain support at about current levels for three DOE user facility upgrade projects, but proposes to cut funding to reduced levels requested by the Trump administration for the two projects at Oak Ridge National Lab’s Spallation Neutron Source. However, the House does propose significant emergency stimulus funding for the two projects and Sen. Alexander, a champion of Oak Ridge, is likely to press for them to be funded apace.

Instruments and equipment. The House proposes to ramp up work on new instruments and equipment projects. These include building a new cryomodule repair and maintenance facility at SLAC National Accelerator Lab, adding beamlines at Brookhaven National Lab’s National Synchrotron Light Source II, and modernizing instrumentation at DOE’s five Nanoscale Science Research Centers.

Energy Innovation Hubs. The House would provide continued funding for the two Basic Energy Sciences Energy Innovation Hubs. This summer, DOE made new awards for its Fuels from Sunlight hub totaling $100 million over five years, split between the Liquid Sunlight Alliance (LiSA) led by Caltech, which also hosted the previous hub, and the Center for Hybrid Approaches in Solar Energy to Liquid Fuels (CHASE) led by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The Joint Center for Energy Storage Research at Argonne National Lab is currently in the middle of its second five year award, worth $120 million overall.

High Energy Physics

LBNF/DUNE and PIP-II. The House proposes decreasing funding for the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility and Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment from $171 million to $140 million, while also providing it with $641 million in emergency funding. The House report does not remark on the 40% increase in the total project cost reported in DOE’s budget request, which is linked to increases in civil construction costs and budget risks stemming from delays in securing partner contributions. The House proposes ramping up funding for the associated Proton Improvement Plan II accelerator upgrade at Fermilab from $60 million to $96 million and providing $284 million in emergency funding.

Large Hadron Collider. The House would provide steady funding of $100 million for upgrades to CERN’s Large Hadron Collider and its ATLAS and CMS detectors. It would provide an additional $33 million for the detector upgrades through its National Science Foundation spending proposal. DOE expects the baseline cost estimate for the accelerator upgrade will have to be revised due to pandemic-related disruptions. The House proposes $200 million in emergency funding for “computing and equipment” at LHC.

Fusion Energy Sciences

ITER. Under the House proposal, the U.S. would increase its contribution to the France-based ITER fusion power project from $242 million to $260 million, of which at least $100 million would cover DOE’s cash obligations. The House also proposes $65 million in emergency funding. In the past, the House has proposed higher contributions to ITER than the Senate, though last year the House and Senate agreed to a final amount exceeding both their original proposals.

Private fusion ventures. The House proposes increasing the budget from $4 million to $5 million for the Innovation Network for Fusion Energy (INFUSE) program, which supports collaborations between DOE labs and private fusion energy ventures. It also notes it is awaiting a report mandated last year on a “possible cost share program for reactor technologies.” Through separate legislation, the House has proposed establishing a “milestone-based development program” modeled on NASA’s Commercial Cargo Program, which fostered a commercial launch services market capable of resupplying the International Space Station.

Materials Plasma Exposure eXperiment. The House proposes ramping down funding for MPEx, which will test materials in conditions similar to those that would exist in a nuclear fusion reactor, from $21 million to $12 million, meeting the Trump administration’s request. The House also proposes $134 million in emergency funding, which would cover most or all the project’s remaining costs.

Petawatt laser upgrade. Similarly, the House proposes ramping down funding for a power upgrade to the Matter in Extreme Conditions end station at SLAC’s X-ray free electron laser facility from $20 million to $5 million, while also proposing $110 million in emergency funding.

Nuclear Physics

Electron-Ion Collider. The House proposes $30 million for early work on the Electron-Ion Collider facility at Brookhaven National Lab, as well as $448 million in emergency funding. Preliminary estimates place the project’s total cost between $1.6 billion and $2.6 billion.

Radioisotope production. The House specifies that up to $10 million should go to a “consortium of research universities to apply advanced manufacturing techniques to radioisotope production, including automation, digitalization, artificial intelligence, fabrication, and state-of-the-art characterization instrumentation, and to establish a traineeship program for students to develop the future workforce.”


A sample of actinium-225

A sample of actinium-225, a radioisotope used in emerging cancer therapies. In the past, Oak Ridge National Lab has produced most of the world’s supply of actinium-225, but DOE is leading R&D efforts to find ways of producing larger quantities of it elsewhere. Now, DOE is moving its isotope program out of the Nuclear Physics program into its own office to lend further focus to such efforts.

(Image credit – Jason Richards / ORNL)

Advanced Scientific Computing Research

High-performance computing: The House proposes to increase funding for exascale computing activities from $464 million to $475 million and provide level funding for all of the Office of Science’s high-performance computing centers and the high-speed ESNet computing network. DOE is currently preparing to install the first exascale computers in the U.S. at Argonne National Lab and Oak Ridge National Lab, though the Argonne machine is reported to be facing a significant delay due to troubles encountered by its manufacturer Intel in developing a new chip production process.

Traumatic brain injury collaboration. The House report encourages DOE to step up collaborations with the Department of Defense, National Institutes of Health, universities, and private-sector partners to use computing capabilities at DOE national labs to analyze datasets on traumatic brain injuries. The report also more broadly proposes providing $1 million for collaborating with NIH in DOE’s “data and computational mission space.”

Biological and Environmental Research

Program balance. The House proposes reducing the budget for Biological Systems Science from $405 million to no less than $390 million and increasing the budget for Environmental Systems Sciences from $345 million to at least $355 million.

Energy-water nexus. The House report encourages DOE to revitalize an earlier cross-cutting initiative focused on the connections between energy and water resources. It states the initiative should encompass “regional-scale data, modeling, and analysis test-beds targeted to universities with research competencies in water scarcity issues in drought regions of the United States with the potential to build a hub network on integrated assessment modeling for complex systems prediction for environmental change in relation to water scarce regions with national labs as partners.”

Low dose radiation research. DOE shuttered its research program on the biological effects of low doses of radiation in 2016, but Congress passed legislation in 2018 directing it to resume the work. Congress provided $5 million for the program in fiscal year 2020 and the House now proposes to ramp funding up to at least $10 million.

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