Unambiguous Message: Chairman Visclosky on FY 2009 DOE Science Request

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Publication date: 
14 March 2008

House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Peter Visclosky (D-IN) plays an extremely important role in deciding how much funding the DOE Office of Science will receive for FY 2009.   This subcommittee, and its counterpart in the Senate, chaired by Byron Dorgan (D-ND), will each write the initial versions of the FY 2009 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill, which funds most of the programs of the Department of Energy.                

It is sometimes necessary to "read between the lines" to discern the signal that a committee chair is sending regarding his or her views on the matter being considered at a hearing.  That was not true for Chairman Visclosky's comments yesterday at a three-hour hearing at which Under Secretary for Science Raymond Orbach testified.  The discussion at this hearing will be the subject of a forthcoming issue of FYI.  What follows is Chairman's Visclosky's opening comments in full, in which he discusses the FY 2008 outcome, and his thoughts regarding the FY 2009 request.

At the conclusion of this letter is information regarding a Dear Colleague letter  now circulating in the House in support of the FY 2009 budget request.

The Honorable Peter Visclosky       
Chairman, Energy and Water Development Subcommittee            
House Committee on Appropriations            
Hearing on the Department of Energy, Science FY 2009 Budget            
March 13, 2008

"Good morning, Dr. Orbach. Thank you for appearing before us to discuss the fiscal year 2009 budget request for the Office of Science. Your office is something of an anomaly in the Department of Energy: you do your best to deliver on promises made to this Committee and to follow the law of the land - a philosophy that other programs within DOE should adopt. Without your competent management, I would dismiss out of hand the 19% increase for Science, given that the President's request savages the other energy and water programs under the Subcommittee's jurisdiction.

"Before we get into the details of the budget request, I'd like to highlight some of the bright spots in your program: the U.S. continues to lead scientific advancements in many areas; the Joint Dark Energy Mission is moving forward; you have proposed the Energy Frontier Research Centers initiative, an outgrowth of workshops held to identify key basic research obstacles to technological progress in critical energy issues and the integration of research and development across the Department is beginning.

"Dr. Orbach, I know this has been a difficult year for the Office of Science, but, I confess I am at a loss when confronted with people who accuse this Committee of cutting the Office of Science. In fiscal year 2007 Science received a $200 million increase in the continuing resolution over fiscal year 2006, one of  very few adjustments we made across the government at a very difficult time. In the [initial version of the subcommittee's] fiscal year 2008 House bill, the Office received an increase of $717 million, more than the budget request. However, given a less generous funding level in the other body and multiple veto threats from President Bush, this Subcommittee had to integrate House and Senate priorities with a much smaller allocation. As a result, the Office of Science received an increase of only $220 million over fiscal year 2007.

"I am not a logician and therefore when looking toward fiscal year 2009 I fail to comprehend the President's logic in requesting a huge increase for Science while cutting funding for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy programs by $467 million. I fail to comprehend the reason behind requesting a huge increase in Science while decimating the DOE environmental clean-up and the water programs under our jurisdiction by more than $1 billion.

[At this point, Chairman Visclosky departed from his prepared text, saying "floods kill people,"  spoke of the importance of water development projects to commerce, and the health risk posed by some DOE facilities.]

"Dr. Orbach, I am very mindful of the importance of federal funding for research and development in the area of physical sciences. If you don't receive your full request for science research, it's not because of lack of support for your Office, but the necessity of balancing competing needs that have nothing to do with Science that is at issue.

"Dr Orbach, I look forward to discussing with you the choices made in fiscal year 2008 execution, priorities in the Office of Science fiscal year 2009 budget request, out-year planning and overall management.

  "With those opening comments, I would like to yield to Mr. Hobson, for any opening comments that he would like to make."


Members of Congress have until next Tuesday, March 18 to respond to a "Dear Colleague" letter that was sent earlier this week by Representatives Judy Biggert (R-IL), Ellen Tauscher (D-CA), Rush Holt (D-NJ) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA).  This letter will be sent to Chairman Visclosky and Ranking Member David Hobson (R-OH).

The first and final paragraphs of this letter are as follows:

"As you begin your work on the Fiscal Year 2009 Energy and Water Appropriations bill, we write to express our strong support for the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science, and urge you to include $4.7 billion in the bill for the research and facilities it supports.  This funding is consistent with the level authorized in the America COMPETES Act (P.L. 110-69) and equals the level requested by the President in his fiscal year 2009 budget proposal." . . .

"For these many reasons, we urge you to appropriate at least $4.7 billion - an increase of almost $750 million over fiscal year 2008 funding - for the DOE Office of Science and the physical sciences research it supports.  Furthermore, we urge you to focus this funding on mission-related activities and facilities, and to avoid using core DOE research program budgets to fund extraneous projects.  With this funding, the DOE Office of Science will attract the best minds, educate the next generation of scientists and engineers, support the construction and operation of modern facilities, and conduct even more of the quality scientific research that will ensure the U.S. retains its competitive edge for many years to come.

"Thanks for your consideration.  We are cognizant of the difficult budget situation under which your subcommittee is working, and we urge you to contact us if we may be of assistance in any way."

See http://www.aip.org/gov/nb1.html for information on communicating with Members of Congress.

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