Acting Director of DOE Office of Science Looks Ahead

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Publication date: 
9 March 2009

A recent meeting of the High Energy Physics Advisory Panel started with a presentation by Patricia Dehmer, Deputy Director for Science Programs and Acting Director of the Department of Energy’s Office of Science.  Dehmer’s remarks came a week after the enactment of the economic stimulus bill, and just a few days before President Barack Obama sent his FY 2010 budget overview to Congress.

Dehmer started her presentation by discussing Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s leadership at  the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, saying that he had a very good understanding of the laboratory system and a deep interest in energy issues.  Dehmer displayed an outline of the four major components of the Administration’s energy plan.  They include (1) “Within 10 years save more oil than we currently import from the Middle East and Venezuela combined.” (2) “Put 1 million plug-in hybrid cars - cars that can get up to 150 miles per gallon - on the road by 2015.” (3) “Generate 10 percent of our electricity from renewable sources by 2012, and 25 percent by 2025.” and (4) “Implement an economy-wide, cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050.”

Dehmer turned to an exhibit which Secretary Chu had used at a recent meeting of his senior staff describing “DOE’s Priorities and Goals”:

“Science and Discovery: Invest in science to achieve transformational discoveries”     “Change the landscape of energy demand and supply”     “Economic Prosperity: Create millions of green jobs and increase competitiveness”     “National Security and Legacy: Maintain nuclear deterrent and prevent proliferation”     “Climate Change: Position U.S. to lead on climate change policy, technology, science”

Additional detail was provided on the first priority,  “Science and Discovery: Invest in science to achieve transformational discoveries” in a separate exhibit:

“Focus on transformational science     - Connect basic and applied sciences     - Re-energize the national labs as centers of great science and innovation     - Double the Office of Science budget     - Embrace a degree of risk-taking in research     - Create an effective mechanism to integrate national laboratory, university, and industry activities

“Develop science and engineering talent     - Train the next generation of scientists and engineers     - Attract and retain the most talented researchers

“Collaborate universally     - Partner globally     - Support the developing world     - Build research networks across departments, government, nation and the globe”

Dehmer told HEPAP that these priorities would drive the FY 2010 budget request and future requests.  Dehmer said there would be a focus on transformational science, saying “he [Chu] really means it” as she elaborated on “connect basic and applied sciences.” She also highlighted the goal of re-energizing the laboratories.  Dehmer stated that a significant effort would be made to double the Office of Science’s budget in the next seven to ten years.

Dehmer’s remarks then turned to The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act which provided $1.6 billion to the Office of Science, and an additional $400 million for the Advanced Research Projects - Energy (more.)  (For perspective, the FY 2008 budget for the Office of Science was $3,973 million.)  “Overall, we are very, very happy” she said of the legislation, explaining that there were only a few smaller issues to be settled.  With the signing of this bill, most DOE science programs are now on a doubling track.

DOE is now developing plans to spend this money, which must be approved  by the Office of Management and Budget.  Dehmer said that there is a “very high priority to get this money out well.”  The directors of science programs have been asked for a list of suitable  projects that stress jobs, rapid implementation, and the avoidance of long-term “mortgages.”  Candidates should be shovel-ready and one-shot.

The stimulus bill included $400 million for ARPA-Energy.  Dehmer told the panel that the plans for how this new agency would be coordinated with the Office of Science were evolving,  adding that Secretary Chu would be personally involved in deciding how ARPA-E would function.

Concluding her remarks, Dehmer reemphasized a point she had previously made: “the Secretary really believes transformational science is important.”

Dehmer’s exhibits, as well as those of the other speakers at this two-day meeting are available here.

Richard M. Jones

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