House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson (R-ID) got right to the point: “while it was great to see some of the Department of Energy funding increases proposed, since they were not actually the result of making the tough choices needed in this fiscal environment, we cannot realistically use this request as a true measure of need or priorities.” Simpson’s remarks were addressed to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz at the start of a February 26 subcommittee hearing on DOE’s FY 2016 request.
Simpson was viewing the DOE submission in the larger context of the Obama Administration’s FY 2016 budget request for the entire federal government that exceeds statutory budget caps by $71 billion. Simpson said “since this increase was offset by legislative proposals that cannot pass and savings gimmicks that do not actually save, it is unlikely that the Appropriations Committee will be funding at this level.” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) had the same message, telling Moniz “Unfortunately, your request is not realistic – and we’re looking forward to hearing from you today about how we should make the difficult decisions necessary to correct this shortcoming in your request.” DOE requested an increase of 9.2 percent, or $2,521.4 million in its FY 2016 budget, from $27,402.4 million to $29,923.8 million.
The legislatively-mandated budget caps are going to present real problems for appropriators as they develop their bills for the next fiscal year. Sequestration, or automatic reduction of funding, was avoided this fiscal year and last year after Congress and the Obama Administration struck a deal. The caps are back in force, with Ranking Member Nita Lowey (D-NY) calling for another budget agreement that would “end . . . the mindless austerity of sequestration.” She concluded her opening remarks saying that “it is imperative that we continue to invest in innovation at our nation’s colleges, universities, and national labs.”
In his prepared testimony Moniz told appropriators that the requested increase was split about equally between defense and nondefense programs. He briefly outlined programs in science (“there is much going on here”), energy, ARPA-E, National Nuclear Security Administration, and environmental management.
Appropriators asked Moniz about a broad range of topics, including carbon sequestration, natural gas prices, the renovation of weapons’ lab facilities, alternative energy, exascale computing, energy/water issues, and nonproliferation. In response to questions about the budget for the Office of Science, Moniz said the request would allow for full operations at 98 percent of its facilities. He stressed the importance of these facilities to the 31,000 scientists in the user community last year. About the MOX facility Moniz said “there is a fork in the road” that Congress and the Administration will reach about future construction, and suggested that contributions from other countries might be sought. Moniz described the controversy about Yucca Mountain as “a never ending saga,” adding that “a consent-based process is the only way to go.”
Moniz’s testimony was well-received by the appropriators. Simpson concluded the hearing by expressing his appreciation to Moniz for his, and his staff’s, willingness to work with the appropriators, and for his visits to Members’ districts. Simpson’s final words were about his subcommittee’s allocation for FY 2016, a figure that has yet to be determined, in developing the Department of Energy’s budget for next year.