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HEPAP Meeting Emphasizes Prioritizing Large Scale Facilities

Trends toward large-scale facilities in many fields of science, and how to prioritize and pay for them, were among the topics discussed at a two day meeting of DOE's High Energy Physics Advisory Panel (HEPAP) in July. Participants also discussed the importance of high-performance computing, and the impact on the high energy physics (HEP) program of last year's National Research Council report on the intersection of physics and astronomy, "From Quarks to the Cosmos."

Ray Orbach, director of DOE's Office of Science, discussed his attempts to prioritize a wish list of facilities across the Office's programs in a 20-year plan. Orbach said that both his office and NSF are attempting to prioritize research across fields, and while it is a difficult task, "somebody has to make a decision." He admitted, though, that "in some cases it was simply impossible to decide on the scientific merit between various projects."

Regarding future funding for high energy physics, Orbach said that "the issue of expectations and accomplishment is terribly important." Recognition of the quality and importance of the HEP program's performance has been demonstrated by the fact that appropriators in both the House and Senate have recommended "augmentations" above the President's request. "I can't impress on you enough the importance of credibility," he said. "We have to remain credible, or people will lose confidence in us." Orbach also described his office's difficulties with the international aspects of programs like the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor and the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).While the schedule for completing the LHC has slipped by at least two years to 2007, the US detectors were on budget and on schedule for completion in 2005.

"Most of our time is spent worrying about large-scale facilities," said Patrick Looney, OSTP Assistant Director for Physical Sciences and Engineering. He noted that some existing facilities are underutilized, some redundant, and many need upgrades. At the same time, traditional fields are requesting significant new investments for facilities, while facing increased competition from fields that have not relied on large facilities in the past. Looney estimated that the total cost of the many recommended facilities "exceeds optimistic budget projections by more than a factor of two."

Given the stiff competition for funding, how do appropriators decide which areas they should be investing in? Looney advocated a uniform policy for making the case for a facility to OSTP and OMB?a policy that would address the project's consistency with agency missions and national goals, coordination with other federal agencies, and impacts on other fields of science. His advice: "Don't tell us what you want to build; tell us what you want to do." Looney also reported that a panel of the National Science and Technology Council was looking into the issue of large-scale facilities, while another was developing recommendations, based on the "Quarks to the Cosmos" report, on interagency research at the intersection of physics and astronomy.

Finally, Robin Staffin, who heads the high energy physics program at the Office of Science, emphasized the need to develop consensus on the future of high energy physics, and the importance of communicating that vision to the public and to policymakers. "It's easy to believe we are not a special interest," he said, but to policymakers who deal with a wide variety of programs, "I'm sure we sound like a special interest. We need to communicate ourselves as an important social, economic and intellectual resource." In his remarks, Staffin also commented that "globalization is an important new criteria for how decisions will be made," and he noted that while the issue of evaluating program performance "is not going away," the choice of appropriate performance measures "is largely up to us."

In a related meeting, the multinational collaboration to build the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), and the project's impact on the domestic fusion program, was a main topic of discussion at a July 31-August 1 meeting of the Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee.

N. Anne Davies, the director of DOE's Fusion Energy Sciences (FES) program, described the current status of the FY 2004 appropriations process and her efforts to develop a financial plan for the year in the absence of a final appropriations bill. Using the lower of the House and Senate appropriators' recommendations ($257.3 million, equal to the request), Davies warned, "We will not be able to do all of what Congress told us to do." Her guiding principles for the FY 2004 financial plan include supporting ITER transitional arrangements; partially restoring cuts to other international collaborations; increasing the level of facility operations over FY 2003; and minimizing personnel disruptions.

Davies said that the budget request for FES was premised on emphasizing the activities necessary to support ITER participation, while delaying or postponing longer-term efforts. However, she noted that both the House and Senate appropriations committee reports raised concerns about the imbalance between ITER and the domestic fusion program.

Orbach told the committee that the promise of fusion "has made an impression on the Secretary of Energy and the White House?There is momentum here," he declared. The ITER negotiations are "more important than just ITER," Orbach remarked. They are "setting the framework" for future collaborations and, "as a consequence, if something goes wrong?if we are unable to bring it to conclusion...it will have ramifications far beyond fusion."

Across the US scientific enterprise, "we have tremendous numbers of facilities that exist, and more that are being proposed," said Looney, who offered his own personal suggestions for investment criteria, including whether the facility addresses important scientific questions; how it impacts other efforts in the field and other fields of science; whether there is coordination and collaboration both domestically and internationally; whether the planning is realistic; and how the program is performing with current funds. "My feeling," he said, "is that we are in danger of saturating our available budgets with low-priority, redundant, and uncoordinated activities."


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