Office of Science Director Ray Orbach offered candid remarks last week to the DOE Basic Energy Sciences Advisory Committee. Meeting in suburban Washington, this committee, chaired by John Hemminger, discussed the recent hydrogen energy workshop and facilities such as the Linac Coherent Light Source and the Spallation Neutron Source.
Orbach began his remarks saying the report of the hydrogen energy workshop (see /fyi/2003/109.html ) was a "tremendous success," adding that "it speaks to the relevance of this committee." He quickly reminded the committee that "It's one thing to announce the hydrogen economy, it's another thing to get us there." Turning to Patricia Dehmer, Director of the Office of Basic Energy Sciences, Orbach asked for the development of a plan or a path-forward, of next steps to be taken, saying that DOE is firmly behind hydrogen energy as a major initiative. President Bush, Orbach said, sees as part of his legacy the development of a hydrogen-fueled vehicle. "If we don't start now, that prophecy won't take place," Orbach stated. Earlier in the meeting the committee heard about follow-up activities to this report from Harriet Kung, BES Program Manager of Physical Behavior of Materials. The committee was told that Kung is the chief contact point for the hydrogen energy program at the Department of Energy.
Orbach usually includes in presentations, as he did in this committee meeting, his observations about the importance of advanced computation, saying that the "opportunities are phenomenal." He cited as examples the development of new materials for fission, fusion materials and human exploration of Mars. Orbach praised House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman David Hobson (R-OH) for his support of advanced computation. "People really do care about the consequences of this field," Orbach said.
Also discussed was the twenty-year facilities plan for the Office of Science. Saying that it "proved to be considerably more difficult than I had imagined," Orbach described the plan's six year epochs as near term, midterm, and long-term. Twenty-eight projects are scheduled. Orbach will sign off soon on the first steps needed to start the process for near term projects. "Clearly we are not going to make it" on the outlined schedule, since funding has yet to be secured, he warned. Although not all projects successfully made it into the plan, Orbach defended the process. Energy Secretary Abraham will release this plan on November 10 at the National Press Club. His remarks, at 1:00 pm EST, will be broadcast live on National Public Radio and C-SPAN.
Orbach turned his attention to the near term funding situation, explaining that the Office of Science appropriations bill will not be signed until November. The energy policy bill, stuck in conference for unrelated reasons, has "wonderful" authorization numbers, he said. Calling the consequences of this bill's passage for the Office of Science "enormous," Orbach explained that it has been 15 years since the last authorization bill was passed. "It is the future of the Office of Science," he said, offering his appreciation for the support of congressional committees and the science community. Regarding the FY 2005 budget, Orbach stated that it was now under development, and that the numbers are still in play. Concluding his remarks, Orbach said the attitude toward his office had never been more positive, and that "there was a real understanding of science at all levels."