Key House Appropriations Hearing for DOE Office of Science

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Publication date: 
18 March 2004

The bottom line from yesterday's ninety-minute House appropriations subcommittee hearing on the Department of Energy's Office of Science budget request was expressed early in Chairman Hobson's opening remarks, and it was not encouraging. After saying that the Office of Science supported some of the most important work in the Department of Energy, and that it would be one of his priorities if he had more money, the chairman made a discouraging prediction. Explaining that the full House was now working on a budget resolution that would freeze discretionary spending in the next fiscal year, Hobson told the DOE witnesses that finding money above the Administration's request would be very difficult, and warned that the final appropriation might be even less than what the Administration requested. That FY 2005 request for the Office of Science is a cut of 2.0% or $68.5 million from the current year budget of $3,500.2 million.

Chairman David Hobson (R-Ohio) is now in his second year as the head of this all-important subcommittee. From his remarks at yesterday's and last year's hearings, and most notably, the bill that his subcommittee wrote last year (with a recommended increase of 6.7%), it is clear that Hobson enthusiastically supports the Office of Science. But the chairman, like almost all of the other appropriations subcommittee chairmen, has little or no new money to work with. When the Administration decided to send Congress a budget request allowing only a one-half of one percent increase in discretionary spending, the result, if followed on Capitol Hill, is that any significant increase in spending for a program will be at the direct expense of another program. Finding such offsetting programs cuts is very difficult.

The primary Administration witness at this hearing was Robert Card, Under Secretary of Energy for Energy, Science and Environment. Accompanying him at the witness table was Office of Science Director Raymond Orbach; Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy David Garman; Office of Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology Director William Magwood; and Office of Electric Transmission and Distribution Director Jimmy Glotfelty. Card briefly summarized his seventeen-page written testimony, which described the programs that are under his direction. None of the other witnesses were scheduled to deliver opening remarks.

The members of this subcommittee continue to give considerable attention to nuclear energy, and like their Senate counterparts, are not very pleased with the Administration's request for research in this area. The members asked about nuclear power research, especially if it involved facilities in their districts. Several members had questions for Orbach. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) asked about the allocation of fusion energy sciences funding to domestic fusion programs and ITER. Orbach replied that care is being taken to ensure that funding is provided for research on ITER-like machines in the United States. When pressed about the current status of ITER negotiations, Orbach said that the United States' 10% share of the facilities cost is the same as that for five of the other six international partners, and that the U.S. is "fully equal with other partners." A decision is in the works about the site for ITER.

Peter Visclosky (D-Indiana) asked Orbach a series of pointed questions about how the determination is made when universities are allowed to compete for research in programs such as the human genome project. Visclosky, from economically-distressed northwest Indiana, said that many of his colleagues representing similar districts are interested in finding ways to increase economic opportunities. The congressman would like to see a wider dispersal of scientific talent and facilities across the United States.

Chairman Hobson asked about the Office of Science's Advanced Scientific Computing Initiative. Hobson feels that this is a very important program, but wanted assurances that it was not only the Office of Science that was paying for the development of these new machines.

During his round of questioning, Zach Wamp (R-Tennessee) praised the Spallation Neutron Source now being built at Oak Ridge, explaining that it was on time and on budget. Wamp was worried about the implementation of the Office of Science twenty-year facility plan, and said, "we're not going to have enough money to fund what needs to be funded." In his answer, Orbach said that the Administration's budget request would provide enough money to start the top five facilities in the twenty-year plan.

As the hearing moved toward its conclusion, Chairman Hobson made a number of points. He said "I support science in general," and later praised Orbach for the presentation of "a good marketing plan" demonstrating "science was lacking." He was critical of the Office of Management and Budget for how it put together the DOE budget, saying that they were "playing God with this bill." Hobson was very displeased with remarks to the media that Glotfelty made about earmarking in the FY 2004 bill.

Then a bell rang in the committee room signaling that Members had to report to the House floor to cast a vote. Good-naturedly, Hobson told the witnesses that they "were saved the bell," and the hearing would have to adjourn. With this and the Senate hearing (see ) on the Office of Science completed, action now moves behind closed doors to craft the FY 2005 Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill.

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