FY 2017 Budget Request: Increases for DOE Science Stand Out

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Publication date: 
17 February 2016
Number: 
17

In a year when overall spending is being held steady, the Department of Energy and its science programs stand out as winners in the President’s fiscal year 2017 budget request, with discretionary funding increases of 4.2 percent for the Office of Science and 20.3 percent for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy that grow even larger when the Administration’s proposals for mandatory funding are included.

In a favorable fiscal year 2017 budget request, the Department of Energy (DOE) would play a convening role for a number of the Obama Administration’s science and technology priorities for the year. The overall request abides by last year’s budget agreement that holds total federal discretionary spending flat this year, but even in a year of fiscal constraint DOE and its science programs would receive significant increases.

DOE’s Office of Science, which focuses on discovery and use-inspired basic research and is the nation’s largest supporter of the physical sciences, would receive a $225 million or 4.2 percent discretionary funding increase in the proposal, while the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), focused on more applied, high-risk, high-reward research, would see a $59 million or 20.3 percent increase. When asked at the DOE budget rollout if the proposal had delivered, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz replied: “By definition, everything we wanted in the budget is in there.

The two tables below show the fiscal year 2017 funding requests for the DOE Office of Science, its program offices, and ARPA-E.

 

Table 1: President's FY17 request for DOE excluding mandatory spending

Agency / Office / Account FY15
Current
FY16
Enacted
FY17
Request
Change
FY16-17
DOE 27,391.2 29,602.7 30,240.0 2.2%
Office of Science 5,132.8 5,347.0 5,572.1 4.2%
Advanced Scientific Computing Research 523.4 621.0 663.2 6.8%
Basic Energy Sciences 1682.9 1,849.0 1,936.7 4.7%
Biological & Environmental Research 572.6 609.0 661.9 8.7%
Fusion Energy Sciences 457.4 438.0 398.2 -9.1%
High Energy Physics 745.2 795.0 818.0 2.9%
Nuclear Physics 580.7 617.1 635.7 3.0%
ARPA-E 280.0 291.0 350.0 20.3%

* all figures are in millions of nominal U.S. dollars

 

Table 2: President's FY17 request for DOE including mandatory spending

Agency / Office / Account FY15
Current
FY16
Enacted
FY17
Request
Change
FY16-17
DOE 27,391.2 29,602.7 32,499.0 9.8%
Office of Science 5,132.8 5,347.0 5,672.1 6.1%
Advanced Scientific Computing Research 523.4 621.0 663.2 6.8%
Basic Energy Sciences 1682.9 1,849.0 1,936.7 4.7%
Biological & Environmental Research 572.6 609.0 661.9 8.7%
Fusion Energy Sciences 457.4 438.0 398.2 -9.1%
High Energy Physics 745.2 795.0 818.0 2.9%
Nuclear Physics 580.7 617.1 635.7 3.0%
ARPA-E 280.0 291.0 500.0 71.8%

* all figures are in millions of nominal U.S. dollars

 

This level of support in a fiscally constrained year is a sign the Administration chose to prioritize DOE, including ARPA-E and the Office of Science, in the budget request. Not all program offices within the Office of Science are supported equally, however. Fusion Energy Sciences would see a steep funding cut for a second year in a row under the President’s proposal. The Administration would reduce advanced tokamak research, including a congressionally-directed phase out in operation of MIT’s Alcator C-Mod tokamak, and deemphasize the joint NNSA-Office of Science High Energy Density Laboratory Plasmas Program.

DOE lead agency for key Obama science initiatives, national labs

With the exception of Fusion Energy Sciences, the Office of Science’s program offices would see requests above inflation, and the Office sits to its benefit at the crux of some of the Administration’s science and technology priorities for the fiscal year. These priorities include an international Mission Innovation initiative to double clean energy R&D over the next five years and a National Strategic Computing Initiative to unleash the next generation of computing technology breakthroughs, including exascale computing.

DOE also has adopted cross-cutting foci in the budget. These include Advanced Materials for Energy Innovation “to accelerate and reduce the cost of materials used in a wide variety of clean energy applications,” dovetailing with Mission Innovation, and Subsurface Science, Technology and Engineering to advance “imaging of geophysical and geochemical signals in the subsurface.

The Office of Science remains committed to maintaining “strong support for discovery science and world-class science facilities,” including DOE’s network of 17 national laboratories. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz noted during the DOE budget rollout that he plans to prioritize the Department’s relationship with the national labs this year. New director of the Office of Science, Cherry Murray, served on the Commission to Review the Effectiveness of the National Laboratories, which released its final report last fall. She aims to “institutionalize best practices in national laboratory management” during her tenure. Moniz called for an “emphasis on rebuilding our strategic partnership with our labs….in which we use the labs to not only build assets but also to help direct where we are going in science.”

Mandatory funding would boost budget, but congressional approval uncertain

The Office of Science budget also calls for an additional $100 million, and the ARPA-E budget another $150 million, in new mandatory funding on top of the traditional discretionary request. The Office of Science’s mandatory dollars would go to a new program of competitive university research grants, bringing the total requested increase for the Office of Science to $325 million or 6.1 percent, and the increase for ARPA-E would rise to a striking 71.8 percent.

Historically, nearly all federal research and development (R&D) has been supported through discretionary funding divided up by Congress through the annual appropriations process. The President’s mandatory spending proposal represents a new strategy for supporting his Administration’s priorities while remaining within statutory caps on discretionary spending. Congressional buy-in for new mandatory spending is unlikely. See the FY 2017 budget request overview FYI for more details.

Other highlights from the DOE science budget request

Some other notable items in the proposed DOE science programs include:

  • an increase in travel funding for senior scientific and technical staff, after several reviews found that inadequate travel resources for program managers have “diminished participation in major scientific meetings and hindered effective management and oversight of science programs and user facilities”;

Advanced Scientific Computing Research

  • as part of the Administration’s National Strategic Computing Initiative, an acceleration toward the deployment of a capable exascale computing system by the mid-2020s and the establishment of a new joint NNSA-Office of Science Exascale Computing Project;
  • expanded support for Scientific Discovery through Advanced Computing (SciDAC) partnerships, including with university-based Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs) focused on solar energy, carbon dioxide reduction, catalysis and storage, subsurface science, and biofuels, and new SciDAC partnership activity to pursue advanced computing technologies “beyond Moore’s Law”;
  • the deployment of a 10-40 petaflop upgrade at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and preparations for 75-200 petaflop upgrades in the 2018-2019 timeframe for the Leadership Computing Facilities at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Argonne National Laboratory;

Basic Energy Sciences

  • a $33 million or 30 percent funding increase for the university-led EFRCs, including five awards for new EFRCs in subsurface science;
  • flat funding for the DOE’s Energy Innovation Hubs, which include Batteries and Energy Storage, Fuels from Sunlight, and Computational Materials Sciences;
  • continued support for construction of the Linac Coherent Light Source-II at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory;

Biological and Environmental Research

  • support for biosystems design, with a particular focus on microbiomes, plants, and soils;
  • continued support for Climate and Earth System Modeling, including a new climate modeling development and validation effort and increased support for integrated climate assessments;
  • continued support for atmospheric radiation measurement, including long-term climate measurements of clouds and aerosols;

Fusion Energy Sciences

  • a shift in focus from the Alcator C-Mod to the DIII-D at General Atomics and National Spherical Torus Experiment at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory;
  • reduction in user research at major facilities, a contraction of the High Energy Density Laboratory Plasmas Program, and the cessation of operations and research at the Neutralized Drift Compression Experiment-II at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory;
  • increased support to the U.S. contribution to the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) at a level of $125 million, to support progress on hardware, including fabrications of the central solenoid magnet modules and structures and the toroidal field magnet conductor;

ITER is currently under construction in France and will be “the first-ever facility capable of assessing the scientific and technical feasibility of fusion energy.” The lifecycle cost of ITER has recently ballooned from $5 billion to $20 billion, which has caused each contributing country’s share to grow by a factor of four. Per congressional request, the DOE will need to decide by May whether and if so at what level to stay involved with ITER.

High Energy Physics

  • a focus on implementing the recommendations of the 2014 High Energy Physics Advisory Panel Particle Physics Project Prioritization Panel report;
  • increased funding for continued construction of the Muon to Electron Conversion Experiment at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab);
  • support for a final year of two major detector upgrades for the Large Hadron Collider;
  • ramped up funding for the formation of a multi-national effort that will begin construction in 2017: the Long Baseline Neutrino Facility, which will be responsible for the beamline at Fermilab and the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment;

Nuclear Physics

  • level support for continued construction of the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB) at Michigan State University for nuclear structure and astrophysics research, and initiation of the Gamma-Ray Energy Tracking Array to exploit FRIB’s capabilities;
  • completion of and the final year of funding for the 12 GeV Upgrade for the Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator Facility at Jefferson Lab;
  • increased funding for the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven National Laboratory to enable studies of spin physics and new phenomena observed in quark gluon plasma formation;
  • funding for a new Stable Isotope Production Facility to enable the production of a broad range of enriched stable isotopes, a capability the U.S. has not had for almost 20 years; and

Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy

  • an increase of $59 million to fund additional early-stage, innovative energy technologies and   exploit the technological opportunities developed in previous ARPA-E programs.

On Capitol Hill, Ph.D. physicist and Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL) praised the request for its “support for American scientific innovation,” noting in particular the importance of DOE’s proposal for new construction for the Long Baseline Neutrino Facility. Foster, who worked for 22 years at Fermilab, has been an outspoken champion of the Office of Science in the House.

While we know where physicist Foster stands on DOE’s science program, we will have to wait and see how the rest of Congress, and the appropriators in particular, receive the budget proposal.

About the author

mhenry [at] aip.org
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