At a meeting last week of the DOE/NSF Nuclear Science Advisory Committee there was considerable optimism about the budgetary outlook for the Department of Energy's science programs, and a less promising prediction about FY 2006 funding for the National Science Foundation.
Most of the meeting was devoted to a discussion of a report by the Neutrino Scientific Assessment Group Subcommittee. The Advisory Committee, chaired by Richard F. Casten of Yale University, first heard from representatives of the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation.
Dennis Kovar, Associate Director of the Office of Science for Nuclear Physics, called the recommended funding levels for the Nuclear Physics program in the House and Senate versions of the FY 2006 appropriations bill "very encouraging." The Bush Administration requested a cut of 8.4% or $34.0 million in the FY 2006 nuclear physics budget, which would have reduced it from $404.8 million to $370.7 million. DOE calculated this would have resulted in a 29% reduction in running time at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility and a 61% reduction in running time at Brookhaven's Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider. This proposed budget also would have cut R&D funding for the proposed Rare Isotope Accelerator.
House and Senate appropriators disagreed with the Administration's recommendation. The House appropriations committee report stated, "The Committee recommendation for nuclear physics is $408,341,000, an increase of $37,600,000 over the budget request. An additional $6,000,000 is provided to initiate a competitive down-select process for design and operations concepts for the Rare Isotope Accelerator, and an additional $31,600,000 is provided to restore operating time of the user facilities in the Nuclear Physics program (i.e., RHIC, TJNAF, HRIBF, and ATLAS) to fiscal year 2005 levels." Senate appropriators recommended an even higher funding level of $419.7 million and included significant report language regarding the Rare Isotope Accelerator: "the Committee requests the Department clarify its plans to move forward with RIA, provide an estimate of when the draft request for proposals will be reissued, and assess whether in a constrained budget environment the Department has any concern that RIA, as it is currently envisioned, will not be built. If the Department anticipates that future budgets will not allow for RIA, the Committee requests the report provide alternatives and explain how the Nation would meet our need for the fundamental physics knowledge and training of scientists applicable to national security and homeland security that RIA would provide."
Kovar told the Advisory Committee that a House/Senate conference should be held in September to write the final FY 2006 report, although short term funding may have to be provided through a continuing resolution. However, yesterday, Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-NM) suggested using this bill as a mechanism to speed money to the Army Corps of Engineers for use in Gulf Coast areas affected by Hurricane Katrina. Looking ahead, DOE will send its FY 2007 budget submission to the Office of Management and Budget next week. At a briefing held yesterday at DOE Headquarters, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman spoke of the importance of the science supported by DOE, but would make no comment about the level of funding that was being requested.
Kovar also briefly discussed the recently enacted Energy Policy Act. He described the new position of Under Secretary for Science, and how science programs will be increasingly involved in DOE's applied programs. While significantly higher authorization levels for the Office of Science are included in the bill, Kovar said that the impact that they will have on future appropriations bills has yet to be seen.
The Advisory Committee next heard from Joseph Dehmer, Director of the Division of Physics at the National Science Foundation. The FY 2006 outlook for NSF was less promising than that for the DOE Office of Science, he said. The Administration sought a 2.4% increase for the foundation. House appropriators recommended a 3.1% overall increase for NSF, while the Senate bill would provide 1.1%. FY 2006 funding will probably be up slightly, Dehmer said.
Dehmer then discussed the status of two major projects. The first, the Rare Symmetry Violating Processes Project (RSVP), was terminated on August 11 by the National Science Board, at the recommendation of NSF management. A release from the National Science Foundation stated: "The project's two experiments - intended to investigate the relationship between the electron and its heavier cousin the muon, and to examine differences in the behavior of matter and antimatter - were to be conducted through added incremental use of an existing Brookhaven particle accelerator called the Alternating Gradient Synchrotron (AGS), which currently serves as the source for a project called the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider. In recent months, the future budget and operating schedule of the RHIC facility have become uncertain. Since the plan for RSVP was to use the AGS in an incremental mode, uncertainty in the future of the RHIC project translates into increased risk and potential increased costs for RSVP. There were also cost increases in other elements of the project." (The entire release may be read at http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=104351&org=NSF .) Dehmer called this termination "a necessary step" that resulted from a multipoint failure. He acknowledged that it was a very unfortunate outcome for science.
Dehmer also discussed the current status of a new underground laboratory. There was considerable discussion in late 2001 and 2002 about locating this laboratory in an abandoned South Dakota mine (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2002/042.html.) Dehmer told the Advisory Committee that there had been a very successful effort to review the scope and the research needs of the scientific community. In July, NSF selected site-specific proposals for the Homestake Mine in South Dakota and the Henderson Mine in Colorado, with teams at both sites receiving $500,000 for conceptual designs. A single site will then be selected. The results of this work will be used by the National Science Foundation in deciding whether a Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory should be funded.