APS News

APS Aids Efforts on Behalf of New DOE Legislation

The APS Office of Public Affairs (OPA) spent much of this summer working with the office of Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL) and others in Congress and the scientific community to introduce new legislation that seeks to set the Department of Energy's Office of Science (DOE-OS) on a course to substantially increase its budget over the next four years.

The bill would also create a new undersecretary position to centralize DOE's basic and applied research programs.

Funding for the DOE/OS has remained at the same level as that of 1990 (constant dollars.) While budgets for the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation have dramatically increased over the last few years, that of the DOE/OS has been at or below the rate of inflation during the last decade.

Congress hopes to enact sweeping energy legislation before it goes home this fall. The energy bill, H.R. 4, serves as a vehicle for those supporting a larger budget for the Office of Science.

When the House of Representatives passed H.R. 4 one year ago, it authorized a single 15% increase in the FY 2002 Office of Science budget. The more recent Senate version of this legislation authorized increases ranging from 9 to 15% in FY 2003 through FY 2006. Conferees will be working this fall on a compromise version of the energy bill acceptable to both chambers and President Bush.

In order to demonstrate House support for the kind of authorization levels that are in the Senate version of the bill, Biggert introduced H.R. 5270. Biggert's bill authorizes an 8% increase in the budget for the DOE/OS in FY 2003.

FY 2004 through FY 2006 would receive authorization increases of 15% per year. H.R. 5270 and the Senate energy bill would provide a roughly comparable increase in the authorization levels by FY 2006. (Authorization legislation guides, but does not set, actual funding levels.)

At press time, H.R. 5270 had 17 cosponsors: Robert Andrews (D-NJ), Leonard Boswell (D-IA), Ken Calvert (R-CA), Michael Capuano (D-MA), Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), Felix Grucci (R-NY), Doc Hastings (R- WA), Rush Holt (D-NJ), Michael Honda (D-CA), Amo Houghton (R-NY), Timothy Johnson (R-IL), Jim McDermott (D-WA), Lynn Rivers (D-MI), Bobby Rush (D-IL), Ellen Tausher (D-CA), Zach Wamp (R-TN), and Lynn Woolsey (D-CA).

Supporters of a larger budget for the DOE-OS in coming years are focusing their attention on increasing the number of cosponsors of H.R. 5270 before this section of the energy bill comes before House and Senate conferees.

"We're hoping to get at least 125 House members on record as supporting its provisions," says OPA Director Michael Lubell, who is working with APS policy fellows Susan Ginsberg and Steve Pierson to garner even more support for the bill.

Those representing the House when this section of the bill is considered are Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), Ralph Hall (D-TX), Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD), Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), and Jerry Costello (D-IL). All of these members of the House Science Committee are strong supporters of science, but they will need to be able to point to the list of cosponsors on H.R. 5270 to strengthen their case.

The House Science Committee's Energy Subcommittee held a hearing on the Office of Science budget on July 25.

Office of Science Director Raymond Orbach, APS former President Jerome Friedman (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), and Richard Smalley (Rice University) testified at this hearing, all of them noting the many research opportunities that would be afforded through higher levels of funding.

With an FY02 budget of $3.2807 billion, the DOE's Office of Science is the principal sponsor of scientific facilities in the U.S., and the leading federal agency in terms of support for the physical sciences, including the materials and chemical sciences.

Unfortunately, the stagnant budget has forced the Office of Science to reduce the number of research grants and cut back operations at a number of major research facilities, at a time when demand for access to these facilities is higher than ever.

It currently funds only about 10% of the unsolicited, peer-reviewed proposals it receives annually, compared to 33% of proposals funded by the NSF.

"The consequences have rippled through the entire research enterprise," Friedman testified during the July 25 hearing. "Reductions in the operating and construction budgets for DOE facilities have put extraordinary strains on the R&D enterprise that reach far beyond the Department's own research programs."

Furthermore, the reductions in university support have prompted students to seek other career options, causing the country to become increasingly reliant on an uncertain flow of foreign-born scientists.

The DOE predicts that within ten years, 50% of its own managers will be eligible for retirement, so the stage is set for a significant workforce shortage. "You've got a serious mismatch between the demand for operations at the facilities and the ability to operate, and you've also got a serious mismatch between the projected manpower needs and the number of students entering the physical sciences," said Lubell.

The other major provision of H.R. 5270 is the creation of a new under-secretary of Energy Research and Science, with authority over all civilian science programs that support activities at DOEnational laboratories and U.S. research universities.

"An undersecretary, properly credentialed in science and engineering, would be better able to integrate DOE's basic and applied research programs, provide the vital visibility for DOE's science enterprise, and allow the remaining undersecretary to concentrate on DOE's important environmental management mission," said Lubell.

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette