OSTP Perspective on "Balance" and Fusion; Research Business Model Meeting

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Publication date: 
1 December 2003


Calls for balance in federal research funding "means no priorities" cautioned Patrick Looney, Assistant Director for Physical Sciences and Engineering at the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Looney's warning about the allocation of federal research dollars came during his presentation to a Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee meeting on November 17.

Looney was commenting on a recent National Academy of Sciences report on fusion energy sciences, and how the advisory committee could best respond to it. "I would like to caution you about the use of the word 'balance,'" Looney told the committee. Declaring it a "red-hot word" that was "divisive" he urged the committee to leave this noun out of their response, saying that it was "just not going to help."

Judging from Looney's remarks, the Bush Administration is bullish on fusion energy. Saying that OSTP's physical sciences group had spent an "extraordinary amount of time" on formulating U.S. policy regarding ITER, Looney called the proposed facility "the defining experiment." He was particularly supportive of the NAS report on fusion energy (http://www.nap.edu/catalog/10816.html)as an excellent basis on which to move forward, saying "we are endorsing the NAS report and many of the conclusions it drew."

Looney told the committee that "If ITER is going to be successful . . . [we] need a common basis for dialogue." Instability is undesirable; all interested parties must agree on the path forward. The decision making process must be transparent, the administration should be kept informed, and "surprises" are to be avoided. Limited budget resources will require program prioritization. Looney said that "graceful transition pathways" for the fusion energy sciences program must be detailed, and added, "we cannot argue for funds in the absence of a plan we all agree on." Fusion program metrics must be established.

Also important as the fusion advisory committee formulates its response to the NRC report is for it to consider its audience of policymakers in the administration and Congress. Looney recommended that the committee avoid multiple budget scenarios, instead specifying what research could be expected for the stated guidance level of funding. Regarding the timing of the advisory committee's report, Looney said that an interim report by next summer would be appropriate.


A subcommittee of the National Science and Technology Council is preparing to "begin the process of prioritizing and initiating the changes needed to improve performance and mechanisms of accountability of the research enterprise" after a public two-day meeting in Washington on December 9 and 10. This meeting follows four regional meetings that were described in /fyi/2003/137.html.

Public comments sent to the Research Business Models Subcommittee have been posted at http://rbm.nih.gov/fed_reg_20030906/index.htm Additional comments can be sent to Michael Holland at the Office of Science and Technology Policy at mholland [at] ostp.eop.gov

A website at http://www.masimax.com/rbms/index4.htm has information regarding the agenda and registration for this free meeting next week. Sessions have been scheduled for public comment.

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