OSTP Director John Holdren on FY 2013 S&T Budget Request

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Publication date: 
24 February 2012

Office  of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren was responding to a  question about the FY 2013 request for the High Energy Physics Program at the DOE  Office of Science, but his reply could answer many questions about the Obama  Administration’s request for various science and technology programs.  Said Holdren at the February 17 hearing of  the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee when asked by Rep. Randy  Hultgren (R-IL) about funding for the Long-Baseline Neutrino Experiment (LBNE):

“I  have to say this is really painful.   Painful for me, and painful for my colleagues to have had to engage in  making these very tough choices.  We are  interested in keeping LBNE alive.  It is,  as you pointed out, just limping along in this budget.  I wish we could do better.  But to do a lot better we would have to take  the money from someplace else.  And our  judgment was that the places we are putting it have at this point a higher  potential on the margin.

“I  cannot tell you how much I sympathize with the view that important scientific  projects in which we have invested in the past and would like to continue to  invest in the future simply cannot be afforded under the current fiscal  restraints.  We are constantly finding  ourselves in this position where our friends in the Congress reiterate the dilemma  that we already know we have.  It is that  everybody wants to see the deficit shrunk and the overall budget smaller and  everybody at the same time wants to see the projects and programs for which  they are most familiar and they know are valuable continued and expanded.  And those views simply can’t be completely  reconciled.”

When  asked about the proposed reduction in funding for the High Energy Physics Program,  a significant budget increase for the Basic Energy Sciences Program, and smaller  increases for other Office of Science programs, and whether it was equitable,  Holdren responded:

“The  concept of equitable is a difficult one to apply in making tough choices among  competing scientific priorities.  Again,  we have gotten tremendous benefit out of Fermilab.  We have gotten tremendous benefit out of the  Tevatron.  But I think in terms of the  Tevatron there are now other machines in which we participate that are more at  the cutting edge and that are yielding more cutting edge results than we can  now get from the Tevatron.  We could  still get some good stuff from the Tevatron, and in better times we would have  more funding for it.  But we made, as I  said, some tough choices here.  The Fermilab  is a national asset.  I want to see it  maintained.  I want to see it  healthy.  But I would simply reiterate in  this very demanding environment we have tried to make judgments about where the  greatest value at the margin was for an additional dollar that could be added  one place or another.  And since we had  to stay flat overall, dollars added one place had to be taken away in another.”

Holdren  spoke many times of “tough choices” that the Administration faced when  developing the request since spending in FY 2013 is limited to the FY 2011  level.  When asked by Rep. Judy Biggert  (R-IL) about the 2.4 percent requested increase for the Office of Science and the  doubling of its budget, which would take approximately thirty years to  accomplish at this rate, Holdren replied:

“We  are committed, we remain committed to keeping the NSF, DOE Office of Science  and the NIST laboratories on a rising trajectory.  Clearly the budget constraints under which we  now operate have made the goal of doubling more difficult, and unfortunately  your arithmetic is correct.  At that  growth rate in the Office of Science it would take a long time for it to  double.  And we have made tough choices  across NSF, DOE Office of Science, NIST laboratories trying to look for the  most promising opportunities to increase things.”

When  committee chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) asked about the decision to cancel NASA’s  participation in two contemplated missions to Mars, Holdren again cited funding  constraints while defending exploration of the planet.  He explained “we do not have the budget to go  forward with the 2016 and 2018 joint missions with the European Space Agency.  We retain the most rigorous and forward  leaning Mars exploration program that there has ever been, the most forward  leaning in the world.” Holdren mentioned  the Mars Rover still at work, the Mars Science Laboratory that is on its way to  the planet, two satellites now orbiting Mars, and the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile  Evolution Mission (MAVEN) that will be launched in 2013. “We are in no way retreating from our  commitment of having a vigorous program of Mars exploration including laying  the groundwork for human exploration” Holdren told the committee.  Commenting on Holdren’s response, Hall said the  economy “would dictate” when human exploration of Mars will be possible.  Holdren agreed, adding that while “the  economy obviously has to remain priority one in this budget and going forward,”  President Obama will not neglect federal support for science and  technology. 

Funding  constraints will also affect the U.S. contribution to the ITER project.  When Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) asked about a  requested 0.7 percent decline in the FY 2013 budget for the Fusion Energy  Sciences Program by, Holdren responded:

“Part  of the reduction in fusion is that we are not going to be able to increase the  US contribution to the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor at the  rate that was programmed in the ITER agreement. And we have already spoken to  our partner countries about that so this is some hit on the fusion side, the  magnetic fusion side there.”

Other  issues raised during this hearing included funding for climate change research,  NASA’s Space Launch System and crew capsule, NOAA research, federal K-12 STEM  education, nuclear energy R&D, scientific prize competitions, measuring the  benefits of basic research, gas and oil extraction, collaboration with China, the  status of the National Ignition Facility, energy efficiency, support of green  technologies, the national laboratories, and the Manufacturing Extension  Partnership Program of the National Institute of Science and Technology.  A common theme running through much of this  discussion was the cap on discretionary spending and the effect it would have  on these programs in FY 2013.

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