Last week's meeting of the Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee included a presentation by Office of Science Director Ray Orbach. While many of his comments concerned the fusion program, his remarks could be applied to most of the programs in his office. Said Orbach of the FY 2006 budget request: "we've had to make difficult choices."
Orbach described the Administration's determination to cut the deficit in half by 2009 (estimated to be $427 billion this year) as the backdrop against which the FY 2006 budget should be viewed. Non-security discretionary spending would be cut by almost 1% under the president's request. Orbach acknowledged that this downward pressure had impacted the FY 2006 request. He added that the Office of Science "had not been treated badly in this budget [request]" or in the funding projections for the next four years.
The Office of Science's construction and operation of large scientific facilities was described by Orbach as "the edge America has compared to the rest of the world." Citing the defunct SSC site in Texas, and the Large Hadron Collider now under construction in Europe, Orbach discussed the resulting damage that was done to U.S. high energy physics research. Saying that he wanted U.S. scientists to have the opportunity to lead the world, Orbach said budgetary trade-offs had to be made in the FY 2006 request. Without these trade-offs the Office of Science would have had to pull back he said, resulting in American scientists "buying a lot of airline tickets" in the future.
The numbers in one of Orbach's exhibits illustrated these trade-offs. In FY 2004, core research was 49% ($1,735 million) of the Office of Science appropriation. Under the FY 2006 request the percentage would drop to 45% and $1,571 million, a reduction Orbach described as a "very serious change." The shift toward facility funding is driven by the Spallation Neutron Source, ITER, four new nanoscience centers, and LINAC, "all world leading investments," he said.
Orbach is bullish on the potential for fusion energy, describing it as the one credible opportunity there is to generate electricity without environmental degradation. "I believe there is momentum," he stated, noting that skepticism on Capitol Hill about fusion seems to be gone. "Make no mistake, we are committed to fusion," said Orbach. He told the advisory committee that "I have no intention of destroying the domestic [fusion] program," and said about ITER that the U.S. "needs to go for ITER and nothing less." He characterized ITER as "a real success story," and said if the FY 2006 requested budget increase of 6.1% for fusion energy sciences can be duplicated in coming years that program funding may return to its former level. He was optimistic that an ITER site will be determined in the next few months.
Looking ahead at what he called formula-driven budget projections that would reduce Office of Science spending by 10% in coming years, Orbach said efforts must be made to explain "the opportunities that are there for the American public if they invest in science." The science community must "get the word out . . . to explain over and over why science needs to be treated differently." He cited a speech he had given earlier this year outlining the case for investing in science that will be excerpted in a forthcoming FYI. Applauding the committee for its efforts, he told them to "keep doing what you are doing."