We present here, verbatim, two November 2008 issues of FYI, a news service of the American Institute of Physics highlighting developments in Washington, D.C. that impact the physics community. Both issues are reproduced with the kind permission of their author, Richard M. Jones of the AIP.

First is FYI #105, concerning the appointment of a science advisor to the new president of the United States:

"It is essential to quickly appoint a science advisor who is a nationally respected leader with the appropriate scientific, management and policy skills necessary for this critically important role." – Letter to Senator, now President-Elect, Obama

Almost 180 organizations, including the American Institute of Physics, the American Physical Society, and the American Astronomical Society signed letters to Senator Barack Obama and Senator John McCain urging them to quickly appoint a White House Science Advisor by Inauguration Day. The October letters also ask that this position be called the Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and that it be made a cabinet-level position.

A similar recommendation was made in a report issued last summer by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The first of three overarching recommendations in this report, "OSTP 2.0," stated:

"The President should appoint a nationally respected leader to be Assistant for Science and Technology. This individual should serve at the cabinet level. The appointment should be made early in the new Administration, along with the appointments of heads of cabinet-level agencies."

President Bush nominated John Marburger to be his science advisor five months after he was inaugurated. In reviewing this development in 2001, FYI noted: "President Bush's lack of a science adviser has been a growing source of concern within the S&T community. There is speculation that the Administration's FY 2002 budget request for R&D might have been higher had there been a science advisor. There is also concern that policies with a large science component, such as global warming, stem cell research, and national missile defense are being formulated without the input of a science advisor. Senior level S&T appointments also await the guidance of this advisor."

This letter was sent under the leadership of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Association of American Universities. The full text of this letter follows:

"Dear Senator Obama:

"The next President of the United States will face a wide range of domestic and international challenges, from financial and regulatory reform to healthcare and rising energy costs, from global climate change to ensuring U.S. economic competitiveness and national security. These challenges share one thing in common: long-term solutions that will be impossible without groundbreaking scientific and technological advances. It is therefore critical that the next President seek out and rely upon sound scientific and technological advice early and often in the new Administration.

"Your responses to the Science Debate 2008 questions reflect your acknowledgment of the important role that science will play in a new Administration. With this in mind, it is essential to quickly appoint a science advisor who is a nationally respected leader with the appropriate scientific, management and policy skills necessary for this critically important role.

"For these reasons, the undersigned organizations representing the business, education and scientific communities urge you, if you are elected President, to appoint your White House Science Advisor by January 20, so this individual can participate immediately in coordinating relevant policy and personnel decisions relating to science and technology.

"We further urge that the next President give the science advisor the title of Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and assign the position a cabinet rank, the same status currently given to the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Trade Representative.

"The next President must lead our country in addressing the national issues of concern to us all. To do so effectively, science and technology must be part of the solution. Putting a science advisor in place early, and providing this individual with adequate stature and authority within the White House, will help the new President effectively address the challenges we face."

Click here for a complete list of the signatories to this letter.

Next we print FYI#107, concerning American participation in ITER, the International collaboration on controlled fusion energy production:

Gene Nardella, DOE Acting Associate Director of Science for Fusion Energy Sciences told the Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee that he would be discussing the program's "highlights and low lights" during his November 6 presentation. The highlight: Congress is "still very supportive" of the fusion program. The low light: the United States "cannot live up to our commitments" to the ITER project with the amount of money Congress has previously appropriated.

Nardella was succinct: “the key thing for us is the appropriation." Given the lack of an FY 2009 DOE appropriations bill, the program is being funded under a stop-gap continuing resolution funding bill that provides, when combined with additional supplemental funding, $20.5 million for the first five months of FY 2009. The Administration requested $493.1 million for the entire year. The resulting shortfall has required the Department of Energy to back off its commitments to ITER for equipment, staffing, and the central reserve fund. DOE is now running, a "very tight, very effective" fusion program while it awaits the outcome of the FY 2009 appropriations cycle. An exhibit stated “Despite the funding problems, the U.S. has remained fully engaged in ITER activities at the international level, including those subsidiary bodies associated with its governance.” Nardella is hopeful that Congress will settle on a final funding bill before the continuing resolution runs its full course into early March.

DOE is looking ahead to the incoming Obama Administration and the new Congress. Nardella told the advisory committee, chaired by Martin J. Greenwald of MIT, that ITER "will be high on the list" for Congress when it reconvenes. The fusion community must now work to demonstrate to President-Elect Obama’s transition team the value of the ITER program. In doing so, the community should explain that ITER is the largest part of the fusion program, but not the only part.

The House and Senate Appropriations Committees and their subcommittees have been very supportive of the Administration’s FY 2009 fusion request. The House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee recommended a 65.2 percent increase over the FY 2008 budget and provided the full ITER request. The subcommittee stated: “Given the tremendous potential of fusion energy to provide a long-term solution to our energy needs, this Committee believes it is essential that the U.S. continue to play a leadership role in this area.” The fusion program received similar support from Senate appropriators in their version of this bill, with a 63.2 percent increase. One of Nardella’s exhibits stated “The FY 2009 Appropriation will determine the extent that the project can resume fulfilling its commitments to design and R&D, long-lead procurements, and funding contributions to the ITER Organization. A year-long CR [continuing funding resolution] could be problematic depending on specific guidance,” with Nardella saying that limited or no funding for ITER would cause cost and schedule problems in coming months.

Also discussed was report language included by House appropriators in their committee report: “the [Energy] Department is directed to provide the Committee with a report no later than March 1, 2009 which describes a bold, credible plan for a world-leading U.S. fusion program as this area becomes an increasingly international endeavor." Nardella told the fusion energy advisory committee that DOE is “working very hard” to develop a plan that will give Congress “a flavor of where we are going.” The plan will outline the fusion program’s goals and strategy in the next four to eight years, and will draw on four reports and studies. The advisory committee will get a draft of the plan in the next few weeks and will meet to discuss it in mid-January.

This contribution has not been peer refereed. It represents solely the view(s) of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of APS.