HEPAP Meeting Emphasizes Facilities, Cooperation, Accountability

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Publication date: 
29 July 2003

Several major themes ran throughout a July 24-25 meeting of DOE's High Energy Physics Advisory Committee. Trends toward large-scale facilities in many fields of science and how to prioritize and pay for them, toward greater collaboration across federal agencies and greater internationalization of projects, and toward performance measures and accountability, were mentioned by many speakers over the two-day meeting. Other topics mentioned repeatedly included the importance of high-performance computing, and the impact on the high energy physics (HEP) program of last year's National Research Council report on the intersection of physics and astronomy, "From Quarks to the Cosmos" (see FYI #67, 2002).

Ray Orbach, director of DOE's Office of Science, discussed his attempts to prioritize a wish list of facilities across the Office's programs in a 20-year plan, due to be released soon. Orbach said that both his office and NSF are attempting to prioritize research across fields, and while it is a difficult task, "somebody has to make a decision." He admitted, though, that "in some cases it was simply impossible to decide on the scientific merit between various projects." Orbach has structured his facilities plan into six- or seven-year epochs, prioritizing only within each epoch, and he noted that the plan will need to be revisited on a regular basis. Regarding future funding for high energy physics, Orbach said that "the issue of expectations and accomplishment is terribly important." He said that recognition of the quality and importance of the HEP program's performance was demonstrated by the fact that appropriators in both the House and Senate have recommended "augmentations" above the President's request. "I can't impress on you enough the importance of credibility," he asserted; "we have to remain credible, or people will lose confidence in us." Orbach also described his office's difficulties in "struggling with" the international aspects of programs like the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor and the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). A later speaker indicated that while the schedule for completing the LHC has slipped by at least two years to 2007, the U.S. detectors were on budget and on schedule for completion in 2005.

"Most of our time is spent worrying about large-scale facilities," said Patrick Looney, OSTP Assistant Director for Physical Sciences and Engineering. He noted that some existing facilities are underutilized, some redundant - either nationally or internationally - and many need upgrades. At the same time, he continued, "traditional fields are...asking for significant new investments" for facilities, while facing increased competition from fields that have not relied on large facilities in the past. Looney estimated that the total cost of the many recommended facilities "exceeds optimistic budget projections by more than a factor of two," and he asked, "how do you know which areas you want to be investing in?" He advocated a uniform policy for making the case for a facility to OSTP and OMB - a policy that would address the project's consistency with agency missions and national goals, coordination with other federal agencies, and impacts on other fields of science. His advice: "Don't tell us what you want to build; tell us what you want to do." Looney also reported that a panel of the National Science and Technology Council was looking into the issue of large-scale facilities, while another was developing recommendations, based on the "Quarks to the Cosmos" report, on interagency research at the intersection of physics and astronomy.

A recent reorganization within the Office of Science resulted in the separation of the High Energy and Nuclear Physics programs. HEP is now headed by Robin Staffin, while Nuclear Physics is led by Dennis Kovar. Staffin spoke about the need to develop consensus on the future of high energy physics, and the importance of communicating that vision to the public and to policymakers. "It's easy to believe we are not a special interest," he said, but to policymakers who deal with a wide variety of programs, "I'm sure we sound like a special interest. We need to communicate ourselves as an important social, economic and intellectual resource." In his remarks, Staffin also commented that "globalization is an important new criteria for how decisions will be made," and he noted that while the issue of evaluating program performance "is not going away," the choice of appropriate performance measures "is largely up to us."