Energy Under Secretary Orbach: "We Are Now at a Perilous Moment in the History of Funding for Science in the United States"

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Publication date: 
31 January 2008

In remarks delivered yesterday to the Universities Research Association, Energy Under Secretary for Science Raymond L. Orbach was clear: "Though you have heard this phrase before, we are now at a perilous moment in the history of funding for science in the United States."       

Orbach's comments made it clear that legislative actions have real-world consequences: failure to enact the President's FY 2008 request for the Office of Science will be felt keenly in the research programs that the Office of Science supports.  Reduced budgets will result in the elimination of  funding for more than 4,300 Ph.D.'s, graduate students, and others from what was envisioned in the FY 2008 request.

Selections from Orbach's presentation follow; his entire speech may be read at Note that his presentation on this site includes two figures: the first, "Office of Science; FY 2008 Appropriation", the other, with new information, entitled "Office of Science; FY 2006 - FY 2008;Impact on Scientific Employment"    Headings have been added to the below excerpts:


"Though you have heard this phrase before, we are now at a perilous moment in the history of funding for science in the United States.  I speak from the perspective of the Director of the Department of Energy Office of Science, and as Under Secretary for Science, but I believe I also represent the views of other leaders of the federal agencies that support science.

"I refer you to the consequences for the funding for science of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2008 Omnibus Bill, and the preceding year-long FY 2007 Continuing Resolution.  Both failed to provide adequate funding for the physical sciences in the United States and for many other fields of science.  The President’s Budget Request for FY 2009, in the context of the American Competitive Initiative, or ACI, will again be a vote of confidence for the three federal agencies that are the primary supporters of the physical sciences: the Office of Science within the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, and the core research component of the National Institute of Standards and Technology.  The President’s commitment to support of long-term basic research continues to be evident in this budget request, as it has been in previous requests.  Indeed, in his State of the Union Address on Monday, the President devoted some of his precious time to state:

"'To keep America competitive into the future, we must trust in the skill of our scientists and engineers and empower them to pursue the breakthroughs of tomorrow. Last year, Congress passed legislation supporting the American Competitiveness Initiative, but never followed through with the funding. This funding is essential to keeping our scientific edge. So I ask Congress to double federal support for critical basic research in the physical sciences and ensure America remains the most dynamic nation on Earth.'
          "I have never heard before such support for the physical sciences from a President of the United States.  But if the FY 09 enacted budget proves similar to FY 07 and FY 08, a “three-peat,” the future of the physical sciences will be in jeopardy.  Opportunities will be lost forever: for science, and our country."

[At this point, Orbach quoted an op-ed by Intel Chairman Craig Barrett]

"I needn’t remind this group what happened in the FY 2008 Omnibus Bill . . . .   The President’s request for the ACI, a trajectory that would have led to a doubling of the budgets of the NSF, the DOE Office of Science, and NIST, was, with a few exceptions, at best ignored.  For the Office of Science, the budget without earmarks was reduced by $500 million from the President’s request, and is only 2.6% above FY 07, which itself was down by $300 million from the President’s FY 07 request.  The loss of more than three quarters of a billion dollars for the physical sciences for the Office of Science will never be recovered.  Worse, specific areas of science within the physical sciences were marked for major reductions from the President’s request.  I speak of High Energy Physics for which the enacted FY 08 budget was $63.5 million less than enacted in FY 07, and by $94 million from the President’s request for FY 08.  Fusion Energy Sciences was reduced by $32.4 million from FY 07, and by $141 million from the President’s request for FY 08, zeroing our Nation’s contribution to ITER construction.  Nuclear Physics was slightly increased by $10 million from FY 07, but cut by $38.6 million from the President’s request for FY 08.  Finally, the budget for Basic Energy Sciences was increased by $19.7 million from FY 07, but cut by $229 million from the President’s request, eliminating funding for basic research energy initiatives such as solar and electrical energy storage.  To be fair, the budgets for Biological and Environmental Research and Advanced Scientific Computing Research were augmented above the President’s request.

"Nevertheless, the consequences of the FY 2008 Omnibus Bill for the U.S. scientific workforce are substantial. . . .   Office of Science funding for Ph.D.’s, graduate students, and others was decreased from the President’s Request by over 4,300.  This at a time when other nations around the world are increasing their scientific workforce.
          "The budget decisions that led to these consequences were carefully drawn.  They were not the result of hasty last-minute actions.  They represent the will of the people, as expressed through their elected representatives."


"But enough of the past.  What’s done is done, and we need to move on.  The President’s request for FY 09 will be wonderful, again, for the physical sciences.  While I can’t go into details here, I can say that it will continue the funding request consistent with the American Competitiveness Initiative and the America COMPETES Act.  The problem for all of us is that, faced with essentially flat funding for the physical sciences in FY 08, the President’s Request for FY 09 will appear as a very large percentage increase for the three ACI agencies.  The danger is that basic research in the physical sciences will again be 'donors' to other programs.


"Compounding this danger is that we scientists tend to regard the proposed increases for the physical sciences under the American Competitiveness Initiative and the America COMPETES Act as an entitlement.  That attitude has failed us.  Our lawmakers have clearly signaled where they want to put taxpayer dollars.  If we are to avoid a repeat in FY 09 of what happened in FY 08, we need to actively make the case for the support of long-term basic research across those fields that have historically represented U.S. world leadership. Our fellow citizens must understand that these investments in basic research have held the key to America’s prosperity and strength in modern times.  As Vannevar Bush wrote to President Truman more than half a century ago: '…without scientific progress no amount of achievement in other directions can insure our health, prosperity, and security as a nation in the modern world.'


"The President’s FY 09 request for the Office of Science will continue to support the full spectrum of physical science basic research.  It will restore the ACI funding trajectory for High Energy Physics, for Nuclear Physics, for Basic Energy Sciences, and for Fusion Energy Sciences, including major support for ITER construction.


"But the President’s vote of confidence in us will go for naught if we regard his Budget Request as 'a done deal'  The final congressional action on the FY 09 budget will not be a free ride.  Our community must make clear to Congress why it is critical for the Nation’s future that the physical sciences be supported at least at the level of the President’s request.  Failure to do so will yield more of the same we experienced in FY 07 and FY 08, and the 'three-peat' will have the potential of continuing the flat-to-declining trajectory into the indefinite future.

"The message of this year’s appropriation is unmistakable.  The American public, through its duly elected Congress, has made its priorities clear: short-term applied research wins over the full spectrum of long-term basic research.  It is our job to make clear to the American people that our country will 'run out of gas' if the latter is not supported.  In the absence of breakthroughs in fundamental science, current technologies will simply not be able to meet the energy and environmental challenges that loom ahead for our Nation.  Progress in basic science is essential to America’s continued prosperity and strength in the twenty-first century.

[Orbach again quotes from Craig Barrett's op-ed]

"The President’s FY 09 budget request to Congress continues to support long-term basic research in the physical sciences: 'essential to keeping our scientific edge.'  It is now up to us, and our community, to make the case."