This week's meeting of the Basic Energy Sciences Advisory Committee (BESAC) gave senior officials of the DOE Office of Science an opportunity to comment on the FY 2006 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill that was recently passed by the House. Office of Science Director Ray Orbach was obviously pleased with the House bill that contained a 1.8% or $66.2 million increase in the Office of Science budget, but advised committee members, "don't spend it yet."
There is good reason to be guardedly optimistic about the House action, since the Office of Science began this FY 2006 cycle with a Bush Administration request that was 3.8% less than the current budget, and less than the FY 2004 comparable appropriation (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2005/072.html.)
Patricia Dehmer, Director of the Office of Basic Energy Sciences, was upbeat in her comments, calling the 6.2% budget increase in the House bill for her office "remarkably good news" that would "fix a lot of problems." Dehmer cited a BESAC report (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2004/115.html) in 2002 outlining the importance of BES programs in securing America's energy future. Of particular importance, she said, was the report's recommendation that "BESAC believes that a new national energy research program is essential and must be initiated with the intensity and commitment of the Manhattan Project, and sustained until this problem is solved." A subsequent hydrogen energy report (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2003/109.html) and its dissemination strategy was called by Dehmer "a model of how things should go in the future." She also reported that a recent workshop on solar energy research needs was also "extremely successful." The challenge, she told committee members, was to make the right decisions for future research.
Orbach's comments centered on the rationale underlying the FY 2006 request. "If we do science," he said, "that science should be the best in the world." Merely being "good is not good enough." But tight budget restraints, driven in part by the Administration's intent to halve the federal deficit before the president leaves office, required that difficult choices had to be made, said Orbach.
Orbach presented an impassioned case for the support of DOE science. He deplored the cancellation of the Superconducting Super Collider in 1993, saying that the freed-up money was not transferred to other DOE science programs. Saying that the controversy about the facility "worked against all of our interests," Orbach said the "death of the SSC was a catastrophe," for American researchers and for science as a whole. As a result, in high energy physics research, "we are not the prime movers," Orbach saying that the U.S. "bought our way in," as users of the LHC. The result, he said, was that high energy physicists will have to buy airline tickets to do their future research; Orbach wants American scientists to be able to drive to cutting-edge U.S. facilities. "The issue before us is world leadership," he said, "we want to give our people something to work with."
Before concluding his remarks Orbach raised several other points. He recognized that the proportion of his Office's budget devoted to research has declined from 49% in FY 2004 to a requested 45% in FY 2006. "This is dangerous . . . a serious issue for us," he said. About ITER, Orbach stated, "will it work; I don't know." He called fusion energy the only credible source to meet the world's future energy needs that is environmentally neutral. Regarding the Neutrinos at the Main Injector project at Fermilab, Orbach declared "we're in a race" with the strategy being to run the machine as much as possible. He highlighted the capabilities of the Linac Coherent Light Source at SLAC, noting that it was a new start even when funding is so tight. Finally, Orbach remarked that "the community is ready" to take on the research challenges of hydrogen production, storage and use.