"It's pretty obvious, it won't be a bed of roses,"the powerful chairman of the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee warned at a sobering hearing on Wednesday. Senator Pete Domenici (R-New Mexico) was describing the outlook on the budget for the Department of Energy's Office of Science and other DOE science programs, and, more generally, other discretionary spending for FY 2005.
Last summer, this subcommittee said the following in its report accompanying its funding bill: "The Department of Energy is the leading source of Federal investment for R&D facilities and fundamental research in the physical sciences. Yet investment in the Department's R&D has declined in constant dollars from $11,200,000,000 in 1980 to $7,700,000,000 in 2001. As a percentage of GDP, total Federal investment in the physical sciences and engineering has been cut roughly in half since 1970." Outlining concerns about physical science funding, workforce needs and the declining number of American students in scientific and engineering fields, the committee stated, "These trends must be reversed." (See /fyi/2003/096.html .) Referring to this language at the Wednesday hearing and the Bush Administration's new request for the Office of Science, Domenici complained, "Unfortunately, that language has been ignored."
While Domenici and the subcommittee's Ranking Minority Member, Harry Reid (D-Nevada) are very powerful appropriators, they are up against the same funding constraints as those facing their colleagues, such as Christopher Bond (R-Missouri) and Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland). Reid said that the subcommittee faces "tremendous restraint on the budget." From their remarks, it is clear that Domenici and Reid are strong supporters of physical science, Reid calling it "one of the best and most appropriate investments" that the government can make. Reid went on to call the imbalance between funding for the life sciences and physical sciences "staggering." Regarding the importance of DOE's science programs, there are few party divisions on the committee. For instance, while Domenici and fellow committee member Patty Murray (D- Washington) are widely separated ideologically, he turned to her at this hearing and said, "we need each other," saying it "is a tough, tough budget." Murray nodded her agreement. "We are in this tremendous deficit," Domenici continued, wondering aloud about what is needed to put funding for DOE's physical science programs on the same track as that seen for other science agencies.
In his oral and written testimony, Office of Science Director Raymond Orbach explained that the $3.4 billion Office of Science FY 2005 request was down $68.5 million from the current year. However, after subtracting almost $141 million in "Congressionally-directed projects" (i.e., earmarks) in the current budget, the request is an increase of $72.3 million. The request, Orbach said, "allows us to increase support for high priority scientific research, increase operations at our key scientific user facilities, keep major science construction projects on schedule, and support new initiatives." In responding to Orbach's testimony, Domenici praised the Office of Science for its recent planning reports, and said of the twenty-year facilities plan, "I think it's terrific." He added that he hoped the report would receive wide exposure. Orbach told Domenici that with the budget request, funding would be available for the plan's first six projects. (The report can be viewed at http://www.sc.doe.gov/Sub/Facilities_for_future/facilities_future.htm .)
Also appearing with Orbach to describe their programs were Office of Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology Director William Magwood IV and Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Assistant Secretary David Garman. Domenici reflects the sentiments of several members of the subcommittee who are very supportive of nuclear energy, and Domenici is quite unhappy with U.S. sentiment regarding nuclear power. Domenici called America's constrained use of nuclear power "a terrible mistake," later calling it the most "astounding failure . . . that the world has ever seen." The energy policy bill that Domenici has worked on contains incentives for nuclear energy, and may come back before the Senate later this month. No questions were addressed to Garman about research programs concerning hydrogen.
Looking ahead, Orbach and his colleagues will appear before the House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee on March 17. Chairman David Hobson (R-Ohio) was quite supportive of the Office of Science last year, recommending a 6.7% budget increase in his bill (the final figure was 5.8%). Both Domenici and Hobson and their colleagues realize the importance of the research conducted by the Office of Science and other science-related programs at the Department of Energy. This is not true for many Members of Congress, who are largely unaware of these DOE programs. For Domenici and Hobson to have any chance to put forward appropriations bills with strong numbers for DOE's science programs they will need to have the active support of senators and representatives. That support will only occur if Members of Congress hear from their constituents.