Instead of the expected increases, federal funding for physical sciences for Fiscal Year 2007 may be frozen at FY06 levels because Congress failed to pass a budget for FY07. This will have serious consequences for the science and education programs in the United States, including potential cutbacks in operations at several major national labs, delays in some scheduled projects, and reductions in the number of new research grants.
Expected budget increases for the physical sciences were put on hold last fall when Congress adjourned having passed only two appropriations bills, for homeland security and defense. A continuing resolution kept funding at FY06 levels through mid- February 2007.
When the new Congress took office in early January, congressional leaders announced their intention not to address FY07 funding bills, and instead pass another continuing resolution holding funding at FY06 levels throughout all of FY07, which ends in October. This would allow the new Congress to turn its attention to FY08 funding, with the President’s FY08 funding request scheduled to be released in early February.
After decades of relatively flat funding, FY07 was expected to be a good year for physical science funding. President Bush’s proposed American Competitiveness Initiative, which had bipartisan support, would have doubled funding for science over ten years. For FY07, the administration had requested a 14% increase for the Department of Energy Office of Science and a 7.8% boost for the National Science Foundation.
Instead, without action by Congress, funding will be held at FY06 levels, which was a poor year for physical science funding. The $3.5-billion FY 2006 appropriation for the DOE Office of Science represented a real decline of almost 7 %. Some national labs had been delaying cuts in operations in 2006 based on the expectation that funding would increase in 2007. In addition, mandated raises and other increases have automatically taken effect, meaning that just to maintain the same level of effort in 2007 requires more funding.
In early January APS Executive Officer Judy Franz sent an alert to all APS members, asking them to write to their representatives and urge Congress to enact increases for the budgets of the NSF, DOE Office of Science, and NIST Scientific and Technical Research and Services (STRS) account in the upcoming Continuing Resolution for FY07.
It is possible that Congress could make adjustments for select agencies when it passes the yearlong resolution. Congress could allow the DOE to reprogram their allocations to fund the DOE Office of Science at the proposed FY07 levels by shifting funds that had been allocated to the cleanup of several large nuclear waste sites since the cleanup is now complete.
One lab that would be particularly hard hit by the budget freeze would be the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at Brookhaven National Laboratory. The FY06 budget left RHIC with a shortfall of about $20 million, and RHIC was only able to keep running thanks to private donation. This year, with funding frozen and no private donation, RHIC will be forced to shut down for the year, said Brookhaven director Sam Aronson. “The long and short of it is that we would not be able to operate the machine this year.”
This is a particularly unfortunate time for a budget freeze, because RHIC scientists were gearing up to upgrade the detectors and were looking forward to a high statistics run with heavy gold ions. RHIC was hoping to get some more good results before the more powerful LHC heavy ion effort goes online.
In addition to delaying the science for a year, said Aronson, “That doesn’t send a good message to the community.”
Brookhaven was also planning a new light source, the NSLS, which was scheduled for $45 million for project-related R&D in FY07. That project would be delayed as well.
If there is no funding above the FY06 level, staff reductions at Brookhaven will be necessary, said Aronson. Electric power costs and manpower costs are significant. “When we have a bad budget year, we can’t help but look at potential layoffs,” said Aronson. As many as 100-200 staff members could be cut, he said.
Continuing funding at the FY06 level would also force Fermilab to shut down for a month. In a report to DOE Undersecretary Ray Orbach in December, Fermilab Director Pier Oddone pointed out that Fermilab’s major facility, the Tevatron, had only a short time to run before being superseded by the LHC at CERN. “The Tevatron program is constrained by the start-up of LHC,” Oddone’s report says, “so it must be run effectively during the limited time before shutdown in FY2009. It does not make sense to shut down the Tevatron for the remainder of the year in a manner similar to BNL’s stopping operation of RHIC while maintaining the work force to run the facility at some later year.”
Fusion science would also suffer cutbacks. Last fall the US signed an agreement to contribute to ITER (see International News on this page), but under a continuing resolution, the US contribution would be reduced to half the planned level. US R&D efforts for ITER would be severely limited, delaying the progress of R&D for the US hardware contribution by a year.
“The impact of not doing the ITER work would really be failing to meet an international commitment,” said Rob Goldston, director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.
As an alternative, if the DOE is allowed some flexibility, the US could maintain a $45 million minimal funding level for ITER by cutting domestic fusion research programs, including the NSTX at PPPL. Either way, said Goldston, “It would be really devastating.”
According to an analysis by the APS Washington office, at NSF the funding freeze would result in a 10% reduction in the number of new research grants and $439 million in missed opportunities for scientific discoveries, including programs designed to implement the American Competitiveness Initiative.
The APS Washington office also predicts that if Congress fails to increase the DOE Office of Science budget, as many as 2000 scientific and technical staff members at the national laboratories will lose their jobs. In addition to the cuts at RHIC and Fermilab, one of the four synchrotron x-ray sources that are crucial to biomedicine and materials science will be threatened with closure, and the opening of the new $1.4-billion Spallation Neutron Source at Oak Ridge National Laboratory will be delayed by a year.
Other DOE-SC user facilities will suffer major cutbacks in operating time, and construction of new facilities, including the Linac Coherent Light Source at Stanford, will be put on hold or delayed. University research support will also decline by about 10 percent.
APS members can find out more and write to Congress by going to http://www.aps.org/policy/issues/research-funding/budgets.cfm