DOE High Energy Physics Program Navigates Uncharted Budgetary Waters

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Publication date: 
18 May 2018

At the latest meeting of the High Energy Physics Advisory Panel, Department of Energy officials discussed the recently enacted funding increase for High Energy Physics and their planning for the Trump administration’s proposed cuts. The panel also approved its first-ever independent review of DOE’s portfolio of currently operating HEP experiments.

With the enactment of fiscal year 2018 appropriations in March, the budget for the Department of Energy’s Office of High Energy Physics (HEP) has now received significant increases for three straight years. At $908 million, its funding is more than $100 million above the more optimistic scenario for constrained funding considered in the 2014 Particle Physics Project Prioritization Panel (P5) report, the field’s definitive planning document.

Last year, the Trump administration proposed decreasing the fiscal year 2018 HEP budget to $673 million. To implement the cut, DOE developed preliminary plans to reduce research funding, delay construction projects, and cut back facility operating schedules. Last October, DOE asked the High Energy Physics Advisory Panel (HEPAP) to establish two special subpanels to review and prioritize the department’s portfolio of HEP experiments already in operation in case it became necessary to reduce or eliminate support for some of them.

The subpanels presented the results of their review at HEPAP’s most recent meeting on May 14 and 15. DOE officials confirmed at the meeting that the recent HEP budget increase will allow the department to fully fund all HEP programs and projects. The review could, though, still be used to guide department decision making. The officials emphasized that the HEP program is currently developing various means, including the portfolio review, of taking stock of its activities to improve how it implements its science program.

High Energy Physics grappling with budgetary uncertainty

DOE has not finalized its spending plans for fiscal year 2018. However, Glen Crawford, director of HEP’s Research and Technology Division, presented charts showing that most of the funding increases would go to high-priority projects.

These projects include the upcoming high-luminosity upgrade to the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN in Switzerland and related upgrades to the LHC’s ATLAS and CMS detectors, which all together will receive $43 million more than last year. Also, an additional $55 million will go to ramping up construction on the Proton Improvement Plan-II project and the Long Baseline Neutrino Facility and Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (LBNF/DUNE), all based at Fermilab. An $18 million funding increase for theoretical and computational physics will fund new work in quantum information science.

Crawford also reported that budgetary uncertainty preceding the new appropriations law has been disruptive. He said the HEP office had delayed funding most grants until appropriations were complete and that it had still not received its full spending authority for the fiscal year. He added that, consequently, the office now has only four months to make this year’s research funding decisions, including on supplemental funding requests from DOE laboratories as well as grants.

Looking beyond the end of the fiscal year, Crawford showed that the administration’s request of $770 million for HEP in fiscal year 2019, a 15 percent cut from its current level, would allow the office to sustain increased funding for most priorities. However, it would require tradeoffs, including cutting research funding, delaying projects, and reducing operating schedules, albeit on a more modest scale than was contemplated last year.

As with fiscal year 2018, it appears unlikely DOE will have to implement such plans. After the HEPAP meeting concluded, House appropriators unveiled their proposal to provide the HEP office with just over $1 billion in fiscal year 2019, an 11 percent increase. Senate appropriators, who have been favorably disposed to DOE science programs, plan to release their own proposal in the coming weeks.

Advisory panel gives lukewarm approval to portfolio review

Stony Brook University physicist Paul Grannis, the chair of one of HEPAP’s two portfolio review subpanels, recalled their first meeting after the enactment of the robust fiscal year 2018 appropriations for HEP. He joked, “Our first comment was, ‘Can we go home now?’”

When they initiated the review, DOE officials were candid that the exercise could be used to help implement the administration’s budget cuts. However, DOE’s charge to HEPAP also compared the review to the National Science Foundation’s portfolio reviews and NASA’s senior reviews, which inform those agencies’ assessments of the value of the science assets they operate. As such, DOE could still use the review to adjust its support for experiments or to extend their planned duration, for example. In addition, the exercise could set the stage for more routine reviews to come.

Grannis’ subpanel was tasked with prioritizing all HEP experiments, except those at LHC, that have been operating for at least two years and that will be operating during the timeframe spanning fiscal years 2019 and 2022. These 13 experiments’ annual DOE-supported research and operating costs in fiscal year 2017 varied between $300,000 and $7 million. The subpanel sorted them into four groups based on their anticipated future contributions to the “science drivers” identified in the P5 report, not their past accomplishments.


The High Energy Physics Advisory Panel portfolio review ranked the NOvA experiment as a top-priority experiment.

The High Energy Physics Advisory Panel portfolio review ranked the NOvA experiment as a top-priority experiment. Its centerpiece is this 14,000-ton detector at Ash River, Minnesota, at the far end of a neutrino beam originating at Fermilab outside Chicago.

(Image credit – Fermilab)

Used with permission from Fermilab

The experiments in the highest-priority group are the Dark Energy Survey, the NOvA neutrino beam experiment, the eBOSS telescopic survey, and the T2K neutrino experiment in Japan. Those in the lowest-priority group, which were found to “require further demonstration of likely success, or whose future program is less effective in advancing the P5 science drivers,” are the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer on the International Space Station and the KOTO kaon decay experiment in Japan.

A second subpanel reviewed experiments at LHC, which were exempted from prioritization because they were the highest-priority experiments recommended in the P5 report. Instead, the subpanel offered observations on the experiments, among them that their leaders should more closely track the experiments’ role in young researchers’ career development. They also said that experiment leaders should pay more attention to the computational requirements accompanying the high-luminosity upgrade to cope with the vastly increased amounts of data that LHC will produce.

HEPAP approved both subpanel reports. However, the review is unlikely to be the final word on any DOE decisions they might inform. Subpanel members stressed that they did not conduct a detailed technical evaluation of the experiments, nor did they assess the experiments’ contributions to portfolio balance or to objectives outside the P5 science drivers.

HEPAP members were also dismayed that DOE’s legal office had ruled that panel members who have a conflicting personal or institutional interest in any of the experiments under review could not vote on or publicly discuss the relevant report. This left only four HEPAP members eligible to vote on the first subpanel report.

Reticent to lend HEPAP’s imprimatur to a report approved by only four members, SLAC physicist JoAnne Hewett, the panel’s new chair, said she would include with it a letter to DOE explaining the situation.

DOE pursuing several other planning initiatives in HEP

Beyond the portfolio review, DOE’s HEP office is currently undertaking a number of other efforts to improve its management and planning.

The office is currently implementing a “laboratory optimization process” to realign resources at the national laboratories with anticipated needs to improve long-term financial sustainability. An overview of that effort was presented at the last HEPAP meeting in November.

In his presentation at this week’s meeting, Jim Siegrist, who heads the HEP office, reviewed the efforts of a Computing Infrastructure Working Group, which is working with the HEP community to assess future computing needs and to make experiments’ use of computing resources more efficient. Siegrist warned that failure to develop a sufficient computing infrastructure going forward could imperil the department’s implementation of the P5 strategy.

Crawford updated the panel on the office’s ongoing work to develop roadmaps for the development of accelerator technology. He also reported that the office will be initiating a series of invitation-only Basic Research Needs workshops, which are a mechanism that DOE’s Basic Energy Sciences office uses to identify research priorities and focus its support.

Crawford said that two workshops are targeted for late summer, dedicated respectively to compact accelerators for applications in security and medicine and to new opportunities in dark matter research. A third workshop, on detector R&D, could take place as soon as this fall.

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