One day before the inauguration of President Bush, Samuel Bodman was on Capitol Hill for his confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Bodman, currently Deputy Secretary of the Treasury, has been nominated by President Bush to become the new secretary of the Department of Energy (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2004/157.html.)
Bodman's two-hour hearing went very smoothly, and his confirmation by the full Senate is a certainty. Committee chairman Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Ranking Minority Member Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) both praised Bodman in their introductory statements. Their sentiments were shared by other committee members. Domenici scheduled a committee business meeting next Wednesday to vote on sending the nomination to the Senate floor.
Most of the senators' questions dealt with energy-related issues. Among issues discussed were the energy policy legislation which died in the last Congress, drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, nuclear power, the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste facility, the reliability of the nation's aging electric system, renewable energy, energy conservation, the privatization of the Bonneville Power Authority, and a proposed pipeline to transport Alaskan natural gas to the Midwest. Domenici expressed his discontentment with the implementation of the legislation establishing the National Nuclear Security Administration, and spoke of the need to rapidly dispose of Russian plutonium stores. Both Domenici and Bingaman described concerns that researchers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory have about the nature of future laboratory work, and how a possible change in the lab's management could affect pension benefits. Bodman replied that the lab is one of the nation's crown jewels, assuring the senators that he would maintain and enhance its scientific capabilities, and protect employee pensions.
While the above topics dominated the hearing, there were statements from both sides of the witness table about the importance of the DOE's science programs. At the outset, Bingaman said "one of the great challenges that all of us recognize is the challenge of remaining preeminent in science and technology, and using science and technology to meet our energy needs and our energy challenges in the future." Domenici supported Bingaman's comments, saying DOE "should be taking a much more active role" in science and science education, later speaking of the disparity in the growth of physical and life sciences funding. Bodman's written testimony included the following regarding science:
"Some people have told me the agency might be more appropriately called the ‘Department of Energy, Nuclear Defense, Science and Technology.' And if that were indeed its name, perhaps the Department would be in the news more often than just during times of power blackouts or high gasoline prices. One example of an important mission that goes well beyond the Department of Energy's name is the responsibility to maintain America's world leadership in science. The Department of Energy, as the members of this Committee well know, is the primary federal agency conducting basic research in the physical sciences. The Department operates a network of large national laboratories that drive dramatic advances in a number of fields – such as high-energy physics, nuclear science, plasma science, material and chemical sciences, and biological and environmental sciences. For the public good, the Department of Energy invests in the large, sophisticated scientific facilities needed to support basic research and the needs of the general scientific community. Each year, thousands of researchers from around the nation, and the world, work with the Department of Energy's national laboratories. As a testament to the importance and impact of this research, scientists working with the DOE national labs over the years have been awarded more than 80 Nobel Prizes. As an engineer by training, I very much look forward to the prospect of learning more about the national labs and to supporting their critically important work."
Later in the hearing, new committee member George Allen (R-VA) called the Office of Science "a very important component" of Bodman's responsibilities in meeting future energy challenges. Allen said the Office of Science is "very important" since it supports about 40% of total funding for basic research in the physical sciences, and he described the importance of the Office of Science's laboratories (the Jefferson National Laboratory is located in Virginia.) Allen and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) sponsored a nanotechnology authorization bill in the last Congress, and Allen outlined the importance of DOE's support of this research.
Bodman spoke of the enthusiasm he has for the possibilities of nanotechnology. He first told Allen that he "fully subscribes to your views with respect to the role of the Office of Science. The support of the physical sciences in our country has . . . not grown, and we've seen this enormous growth . . . in the development of the life sciences. And progress in the life sciences is heavily dependent on progress in the physical sciences. So to ignore one - it's great that it is happening in the life science area - but, we really need some attention in terms of how we are dealing with the possibilities in the physical sciences. So I would hopefully be viewed as a strong voice in support of science generally, physical sciences in particular, in the Administration."