Encouraging Signs for FY 2015 Appropriations; Senate Confirms Orr; Coalition’s Recommendations for DOE Office of Science and ARPA-E Funding

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Publication date: 
4 December 2014


There are encouraging signs that the FY 2015 appropriations cycle is moving toward its conclusion.  The House leadership is scheduled to bring legislation to the floor next week that would provide new funding through the end of this fiscal year for all but the Department of Homeland Security.  While votes are still being rounded up for its passage in the House, Senate leadership and the White House have signaled their general support for the approach taken in framing this omnibus funding bill.

Congressional action on the long-delayed confirmation of Franklin Orr occurred this morning when the Senate confirmed, by voice vote, his nomination to be the Under Secretary for Science and Energy at the Department of Energy.   Following the Senate vote Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz issued the following statement: “Lynn Orr is an outstanding scientist and has successfully led a major multidisciplinary program on energy sources, technology and analysis at one of the top research universities. This experience will serve him well as the DOE Under Secretary for Science and Energy.  I look forward to working closely with Lynn to shape the nation’s clean energy agenda, and to sustain American leadership in science. I thank the Senate for approving his nomination.”

Work on FY 2015 funding legislation has reached a critical point.  Months of behind-the-scenes negotiations by House and Senate appropriators and their staffs have largely settled budgetary and policy differences, with the remaining outstanding issues to be settled by the leadership of each chamber.  These differences include such contentious issues as the regulation of power plant emissions and abortion.  Congressional opponents of the President’s recent immigration announcement will have another opportunity to move against the new regulations since the omnibus appropriations bill reportedly contains funding for only a few months for the Department of Homeland Security.

The appropriations bill and related documents that are being readied will not just continue current funding levels for government departments and agencies. It will adjust funding and set policy to reflect the will of the current Congress in response to the Obama Administration’s budget request that was submitted in early March.

The Energy Sciences Coalition, “a broad based coalition of organizations representing scientists, engineers and mathematicians in universities, industry and national laboratories who are committed to supporting and advancing the scientific research programs of the U.S. Department of Energy(DOE), and in particular, the DOE Office of Science” sent a November 25 letter to the senior leadership of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees urging swift action to complete the FY 2015 appropriations process.  The letter also recommended “stable and sustained FY 2015 funding levels for both the DOE Office of Science and ARPA-E.”   Among the 68 members of the Coalition signing this letter were the American Institute of Physics and two of its Member Societies, the American Astronomical Society and the American Physical Society.  The text of this letter follows:

“Dear Chairman Mikulski, Chairman Rogers, Ranking Member Shelby, and Ranking Member Lowey:

“The undersigned organizations of the Energy Sciences Coalition representing universities, business and the scientific community, write to urge that you move quickly to complete the FY 2015 appropriation process. As you do, we urge that you assign a high priority to funding for critical scientific research supported by the Department of Energy’s Office of Science and the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E).

“Federal investment in research – fundamental and high-risk research that won’t otherwise be supported by industry – is the proper role of government. This is exactly the type of research that is conducted by DOE’s Office of Science and ARPA-E. Providing sustained and predictable funding for these two DOE agencies is vitally important to securing our future national energy security, closing our nation’s innovation deficit and maintaining U.S. leadership in key fields of scientific and engineering research.

“The DOE Office of Science is the nation’s primary supporter of basic physical sciences research (including high energy and nuclear physics), providing over 47% of total federal support in this area and is also critical to ensuring U.S. leadership in other scientific fields including the biological sciences, advanced materials, computing and engineering. The DOE Office of Science also supports the operation of the largest collection of major scientific user facilities in the world. These user facilities are the backbone of experimental and computational research in the U.S. and are relied upon by over 25,000 scientists from universities, companies, and Federal agencies to conduct their scientific and engineering research. The DOE Office of Science thus plays a critical role in supporting the nation’s scientific and engineering workforce and in advancing the fundamental knowledge underpinning major energy and other technology-related breakthroughs.

“Modeled after the highly successful Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), ARPA-E supports high-risk, high-reward research that private industry will not support, but which has the potential to drastically alter how we generate, store, and use energy. ARPA-E focuses on transformational energy technologies that can be meaningfully advanced with a small investment over a defined period of time. Since 2009, ARPA-E has funded more than 350 projects across 38 states. Of these projects, seventeen projects alone have attracted over $450 million in private sector capital after ARPA-E’s initial investment of approximately $70 million.

“While we understand the many complexities involved in reaching final agreement on an FY 2015 appropriations package, we would strongly urge you to move swiftly to complete the process. At the very time that our economic competitors in China, India, South Korea, the European Union, and elsewhere are copying our approach to innovation and increasing their rate of investment in basic and energy-related research, now is not the time to further reduce or further delay providing sustained funding for critical U.S. energy research programs. Short term Continuing Resolutions and further delays in completing the Congressional appropriations process will only harm the U.S. scientific enterprise and give the advantage to our economic competitors. We therefore urge you to act now to complete the FY 2015 appropriations process and to ensure stable and sustained FY 2015 funding levels for both the DOE Office of Science and ARPA-E.”