At one of the first, if not the first, advisory committee meetings since the release of the FY 2004 budget request for the DOE Office of Science, its director, Ray Orbach, described the "superb" support there is for his office's programs, while acknowledging that funding is not sufficient. Orbach's comments came yesterday, the first day of a two-day meeting of the Basic Energy Sciences Advisory Committee (BESAC), chaired by Geri Richmond of the University of Oregon.
Orbach began by describing the strategic plan now being developed that will guide the Office of Science in the coming decades. This study will be based not on politics, but on where the most exciting research frontiers are for his office. He described the diversity of federal funding sources for science, and while saying that "they do look messy," added that the current system is much more desirable than a single federal department of science. The programs funded by various agencies are complementary, he said, explaining that his office's programs support higher risk, longer-term research. Office of Science programs support research converging from multiple fields, and it is the funding offered for support at these intersections that makes the office unique.
Also setting the Office of Science apart is its construction of large facilities. Orbach told the committee that there is a great deal of trust by Congress and the Administration for the office's management of large capital projects. "This is very important . . . we need that trust," he said. The strategic plan looks ahead for twenty years, and will prioritize new facilities costing $50 million or more. A draft plan is due next month, with the final plan scheduled for May.
Under one budget scenario, the funding envelope seems sufficient to construct the various facilities that have been recommended by the Office of Science assistant directors. This scenario assumes that funding levels authorized by Rep. Biggert's bill, H.R. 5270 (see /fyi/2002/093.html) are realized, leading to a 60% increase in the Office of Science budget over five years. Additional annual increases of 4%, which is the target for overall discretionary spending increases, would also be realized. This funding profile would allow for operations at existing facilities, the accomplishment of various missions, and the construction of new facilities. Under such funding, Orbach said, "we can do it."
At present, the Office of Science has not prioritized the new facilities. Under Orbach's direction, all advisory committees are reviewing various new facilities, which was one of the main items on the BESAC agenda. Within the next few weeks, Orbach will take the facility recommendations of the various advisory committees and prioritize them. He will do this by himself, he said, because no committee has been able to successfully prioritize across fields.
For the short run, Orbach said, the Office of Science is still analyzing the FY 2003 omnibus appropriations bill. It appears that the office's budget is down around $9 million from the request. But the mechanics of the bill are difficult, and the ultimate level could be even lower. "These are the cards we have been dealt," Orbach stated. Acknowledging that the "flatness" of the budget does not fit the sought growth curve, Orbach feels that an authorization bill would be instrumental to achieving higher future budgets. Support for the Office of Science, both in Congress and in the Bush Administration is, Orbach told the committee, "is superb."