Update on DOE Office of Science Authorization Bill

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Publication date: 
17 October 2003

House and Senate conferees continue work on the massive energy policy bill now containing reworked language on the Department of Energy's Office of Science. The plan to have this legislation on the President's desk before now has been shelved, with some now predicting that it will not be until November that this authorization legislation is completed. Whether it will be passed is still a large unknown, as new provisions recently added to this bill in a House - Senate conference make an already controversial bill even more so.

A Discussion Draft provided by the conference dated September 29 has a 130-page section identified as Title IX, Research and Development. This title covers many research topics, ranging from fossil fuels to nuclear power. Of prime interest to the physics community are the 24 pages in Subtitle F, Science. If this authorization bill is enacted, it will provide guidance to appropriators as they determine future budgets for the Office of Science. It will also provide program direction.

Under this legislation, the authorization level for the research, development, demonstration, and commercial application activities of the Office of Science would increase 45% in the four years between FY 2004 (which started two weeks ago) and FY 2008. Authorization levels are specified for each of the four years. There was a conflict between some of these authorization levels in the House and Senate versions of the bill. In each instance, the lower House numbers are used in the Discussion Draft. Also detailed are allocations for specific programs. For Fusion Energy Sciences, conferees usually used the higher Senate figures. The Spallation Neutron Source authorization levels were only shown in the House bill, and they are employed in the conference version. Nanoscale Science and Engineering levels used both House and Senate numbers in different years. ITER allocations were also specified in the Discussion Draft.

There are quite a few pages of program direction. There are three and one-half pages of requirements regarding "United States Participation in ITER." The Energy Secretary is authorized to negotiate an agreement for US participation, with a clearly defined financial contribution, an American component requirement, full access to data and an equitable share of experiments requirements, and a provision requiring a U.S. role in collective decision making. No funds are to be expended until the Energy Secretary submits "a report [to Congress] describing how United States participation in ITER will be funded without reducing funding for other programs in the Office of Science, including other fusion programs. . . ." If ITER is found to be unlikely or infeasible, the Secretary must provide a plan to implement the Fusion Ignition Research Experiment.

There is also language on the Fusion Energy Sciences Program requiring a plan, with cost estimates, to demonstrate fusion-produced electric power on the grid or for hydrogen production. Other language caps the total project cost for the Spallation Neutron Source at $1,411.7 million. Another section requires a plan to maintain, construct, close and modify science facilities and infrastructure. There is also a section on catalysis research, with allocation numbers. Still other language pertains to nanoscale science and engineering research, advanced scientific computing, and the genomes to life program. A R&D plan is also required for material science issues relating to advanced fission reactors and fusion energy.

The R&D title does not have language pertaining to the establishment of an Under Secretary for Science. This provision, in another section of the bill, is still under discussion by the conferees.

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