January 2006 (Volume 15, Number 1)

Senators Express Concern Over Layoffs and Run Times at RHIC and Jefferson Lab

Before the Senate passed the FY 2006 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill in November, senators discussed the negative impacts that a reduction in funding for the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Nuclear Physics program will have on two key facilities. As it now stands, the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at Brookhaven National Laboratory and the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility will have to reduce operating times, and, at least at RHIC, reduce staffing.

When the Bush Administration sent its FY 2006 budget request to Congress, it sought an 8.4% reduction in the Nuclear Physics program budget, from $404.8 million to$370.7 million. The Administration acknowledged this cut would result in a 29% reduction in run time at the Jefferson Accelerator Facility and a 61% reduction in run time at RHIC.

Going into the conference to settle on the final version of the FY 2006 bill, it appeared that the Administration’s suggested cut in the Nuclear Physics program budget would be rejected. The House’s initial version of the bill had recommended FY 2006 funding a bit higher than what was then the current level. The Senate bill came in even higher, at almost $420 million. A DOE senior official called the outlook “very encouraging” at a meeting of the DOE/NSF Nuclear Science Advisory Committee in early September.Despite this promising outlook, the final appropriations bill funded the Nuclear Physics program at the level requested by the Administration, cutting the budget by 8.4% to$370.7 million.

Laboratory officials are still grappling with the projected impacts of the reduced budget. RHIC’s next scheduled run has been delayed until late in FY 2006. It will be combined with the run for 2007 to afford the longest possible time for experimentation. Brookhaven’s current hiring freeze will be extended, and officials estimate there could be as many as 100 scientific and support position layoffs between now and next October 1.

There is language in the FY 2006 Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill allowing DOE to reprogram, or shift, money from one program to another, as confirmed in a discussion that took place on the Senate floor. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) led the November 14 discussion, highlighting the severe impacts of the reduced funding levels. She was joined by Senator John Warner (R-VA), who expressed concern about the reduced funding level, stating, “At the Jefferson Lab we need to invest in the 12GeV upgrade necessary to sustain the pace of scientific discovery, not cut programs.” Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Senator George Allen (R-VA) expressed similar concerns.

Courtesy of FYI, the American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Science Policy News (http://aip.org/fyi).

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