The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has sent to the Senate floor its version of a comprehensive energy policy bill. Under Chairman Pete Domenici's (R-NM) bill, the authorization level for the Office of Science would increase to $5.4 billion in FY 2008 from the current budget of $3.3 billion. The bill also authorizes a significant change in the organizational management of DOE's science programs. While these provisions were noncontroversial, the outlook for the bill is very uncertain because of hard-edged disputes over other provisions.
Yesterday's action is the latest development in a move to increase funding for the Department of Energy's Office of Science. Last year, the committee moved a similar bill that would have also benefitted the Office of Science. This bill died when Congress adjourned, a victim of disputes over issues as wide-ranging as drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, electricity generation and pricing, and climate change. About two weeks ago, the full House passed its energy policy bill, H.R. 6, containing language approved by the House Science Committee on the programs and funding of DOE's Office of Science.
A primary function of an authorization bill is to set program spending limits to guide appropriators as they draft the annual funding bills. The Senate bill contains numbers mirroring the House's authorization levels. Starting from the current budget of $3.3 billion for the Office of Science, the authorization would increase to $3.8 billion in FY 2004, $4.2 billion in FY 2005, $4.6 billion in FY 2006, and $5.0 billion in FY 2007. Over four years, this would be an increase in funding of about 52% or $1.7 billion. If realized (an important "if"), these authorizations would dramatically change the Office's funding profile, which has been flat for a decade. (The Senate bill - only - authorizes an increase to $5.4 billion in FY 2008.)
A key difference between the two versions of the bill is their treatment of the coordination and management of DOE's civilian science and technology programs. As the Senate committee worked on its bill this week, Ranking Minority Member Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) offered an amendment, accepted without objection, to create a new Under Secretary for Energy and Science. Six duties are delineated, the first being to "serve as the Science and Technology Advisor to the Secretary." Both bills have a provision to reconfigure the position of the Director of the Office of Science to be the Assistant Secretary for Science. "It shall be the duty and responsibility of the Assistant Secretary for Science to carry out the fundamental science and engineering research functions of the Department, including the responsibility for policy and management of such research" the Bingaman Amendment states. Another position was created for an Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy. Both the Assistant Secretaries would serve under the newly-created position of Under Secretary for Energy and Science.
The Senate bill also covers, among other science activities, U.S. participation in ITER, and limits on Spallation Neutron Source spending, and authorizes funding for a nanoscale science and engineering research program. The 300-page bill is due to come to the Senate floor on Monday. While committee action was smooth and bipartisan, the Senate floor will be anything but. Opponents of the committee bill are readying potentially hundreds of amendments, with one prediction that the ultimate House and Senate conference could possibly extend into next year.