APS News

DOE Priorities to Meet New National Goals

The nation's current economic prosperity is leading to an emerging bipartisan consensus in favor of investing in scientific research and development, according to Ernest Moniz, Deputy Under Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Moniz gave an unscheduled presentation at the APS March Meeting detailing the agency's new role in meeting the myriad of economic, scientific and technological challenges currently facing the nation.

Moniz identified four primary national goals that underlie federal support for scientific research and education: prosperity, health, national security, and environmental stewardship. While security and health concerns fueled much of federal investment in science and technology during the post-World War II period, emphasis has shifted today to maintaining economic prosperity and preserving the environment. Security concerns remain, but the prevailing issue today is how to control the existing stockpile of nuclear weapons and materials, through such initiatives as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. "The paradigm is entirely different," said Moniz of the DOE's role in this new environment. "We are now in a regime where the focus is on supporting a safe, reliable and shrinking stockpile through the construction of a new set of science facilities to achieve a new kind of scientific understanding." The DOE is also involved in activities supporting the health sector, where there is a growing intersection between the physical and life sciences. Moniz cited the DOE's involvement in the Human Genome Project and its support of microbial genomics research as evidence of the agency's leadership in this area. And energy-related R&D is a strong focus for both environmental and economic initiatives.

Regarding national prosperity, Moniz considers sustaining innovation as critical, particularly as the private sector restructures and lowers its investment in R&D. "The question is, what is the government's role in helping sustain innovation?" he said, maintaining that a healthy business environment, while important for stimulating innovation in the private sector, is equally important for stimulating government investment in science and technology. "The Administration's posture, it is fair to say, is that this is the time to invest," said Moniz. "We have had several years of economic growth, we've reached a balanced budget, and our economy is currently out-performing the rest of the world. This is not a time to relax, but to refocus on investments for the future."

As evidence of the Administration's interest, Moniz cited such presidential investment initiatives as the Environmental Research Fund, the Transportation Fund for America, and especially the $31 billion Research Fund for America, an initiative which proposes an 8% increase in investment spending from 1998 to 1999. The nearly $1.5 billion proposed increase in R&D spending includes $338 million for energy technology R&D, especially related to climate change; $420 million for defense programs largely tied to scientific instrumentation programs connected with stockpile stewardship; and nearly $250 million in scientific energy research, roughly half of which is allocated for next year's proposed construction of the megawatt Neutron Spallation Source at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

"The DOE has a unique responsibility for building and operating large science facilities, which serve many thousands of university and industrial scientists," said Moniz, citing technology and resource partnership programs as other DOE activities benefitting academia and industry. In terms of future facilities, 1999 will witness the completion of the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven, as well as the Solar Neutrino Observatory in Ontario and the beginning of the Princeton's National (Spherical Jorus) Experiment (NSTE).

In the field of particle physics, the B-factory at SLAC will become operational within the next couple of years, enabling studies of B meson decay change, CP violation and particle asymmetry. At the same time, Fermilab will complete its Main Injector, increasing luminosities sufficiently to study the top quark regime in great detail, possibly leading to the discovery of the Higgs boson. It will remain the premier high energy physics facility for the next several years until the middle of the next decade with the completion of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, representing a ten-year DOE investment of $450 million. This, said Moniz, "will hopefully establish the beginning of what will prove to be a sustained international collaborative effort on large facilities."

Moniz concluded his presentation by reiterating his enthusiasm about the current scientific capabilities and opportunities, saying he was "encouraged" by the emerging bipartisan consensus in Congress on investment in science and technology. However, he stressed that the federal budget environment remains difficult and the scientific community must continue to be involved in these discussions on the Hill. "Now is the time to invest and build up our scientific infrastructure," he said.

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Editor: Barrett H. Ripin