Ray Orbach was one of five witnesses at a 90-minute hearing today of the House Science and Technology Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Environment. While pointed questions were asked of several of the Department of Energy’s witnesses, Orbach’s programs received uniform praise from subcommittee members.
Subcommittee Chairman Nick Lampson (D-TX) primarily addressed energy issues at the hearing. His opening statement included the following remarks about the Office of Science:
“I’d like to acknowledge the special role of the Office of Science within DOE. Although sometimes overlooked in the greater energy debate, the Office of Science, as the leading federal sponsor of research in the physical sciences, plays a critical part in our nation’s scientific and technological competitiveness.
“The Office of Science has a long-standing role as steward of large, world-class scientific research facilities. However, construction and operation of facilities has come at the expense of funding for actual research at these facilities. I am glad to see that Dr. Orbach plans to put this back on track.
“Furthermore, as the Department pursues plans for additional large-scale scientific facilities, demonstrable measures should be taken to assure due diligence in the areas of cost estimates and design. This gives everyone a higher level of comfort when multi-billion dollar research machines, such as the I.L.C. [International Linear Collider] are proposed to Congress.
“The FY08 request makes a commitment to the Office of Science that is essential to maintaining our economic competitiveness, drawing a new generation into the physical sciences, and successfully meeting future challenges, whether they be energy-related or otherwise.”
Ranking Member Bob Inglis (R-SC), in his opening remarks, discussed the need to break free from America’s “addiction to oil,” and noted that there is a difference between simple spending and thoughtful investment. Inglis described the committee members as investors.
In his written remarks, Under Secretary Orbach confirmed the Administration’s commitment to the doubling of total physical sciences funding over ten years for the Office of Science, NSF, and the NIST research program. He stated, “The FY 2008 budget request for the Office of Science represents the second year of the President’s commitment to double the Federal investment in basic research in the physical sciences by the year 2016 as part of the American Competitiveness Initiative. It also represents a continued commitment to maintain U.S. leadership in science and recognition of the valuable role research in the physical sciences plays in technology innovation and global competitiveness.” In his oral testimony, Orbach also spoke of strengthening the ties between the basic and applied research activities within the Department of Energy, citing as an example DOE’s support of research on cellulosic ethanol.
Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) and Ranking Committee Member Ralph Hall (R-TX) participated in today’s hearing. Gordon lauded Orbach, and then asked the witnesses several direct questions about the Administration’s GNEP nuclear energy program, the lack of progress on consumer appliance efficiency standards, and bio-energy research centers. After hearing Orbach’s reply regarding the research centers, Gordon again praised the Under Secretary, adding that the centers are an approach that should be tried. Hall was quite displeased with the Administration’s lack of support for an R&D program for Ultra-Deepwater and Unconventional drilling technologies. Subcommittee chairman Lampson joined Hall in his criticism of the Administration’s position that federal incentives are unnecessary for this research.
There were several other exchanges between Orbach and committee members. Ranking Member Inglis asked Orbach for a status report on the ten-year plan to double the budget for physical sciences funding. Orbach replied that this effort was “on track.” Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) expressed concern about how the use of corn as a fuel was impacting its price as a food source. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) asked Orbach about the International Linear Collider. Orbach replied that it would be “very significant” if the collider was located in the United States, and added that funding is being increased for some components of the proposed collider. Many international details still have to be resolved, Orbach said, a process that is expected to take a few years. Judy Biggert (R-IL) asked about the status of the Rare Isotope Accelerator. Orbach replied there will be a design competition in FY 2008, and that DOE has planned funding for the project in future years.