Congresswoman Judy Biggert of Illinois (13th CD) had her Ramsey Auditorium audience primed and ready when she declared she had good news to deliver as the Monday morning keynoter for the Annual Users' Meeting. And good news it was: the House of Representatives passed the Energy and Water Appropriations bill last week with $535 million in funding for the Department of Energy's Office of Science -- $35 million more than the original budget request by President Bush.
"Fermilab is the current home of the energy frontier," Rep. Biggert said to warm applause, "and you should get the resources you need to maintain Illinois at the energy frontier."
Rep. Biggert cautioned that the budget process is not complete, with the bill now headed to the Senate. She said the increase in Office of Science funding could offer a target for reductions in the Senate. "We've got to be very vigilant so that doesn't happen," she said. "We're not yet at the finish line, so we must keep our eyes on the prize."
While her arrival had been delayed several minutes by traffic congestion due to an auto accident on Farnsworth Road, Rep. Biggert declared: "It's great to be anywhere but in Washington today." A member of the House Science Committee, Rep. Biggert chairs the Energy and Water Subcommittee with oversight on civilian research programs in the DOE and Office of Science. She has been an advocate of elevating the status of director of the Office of Science to the under secretary level, and on Friday, May 26, Office of Science Director Ray Orbach was confirmed by the Senate as DOE's first Under Secretary of Science.
Rep. Biggert, whose district includes Argonne National Laboratory, was steadfast on two issues affecting the future of Fermilab and US high energy physics: she views basic research, especially in the physical sciences, as a critical component of the American Competitiveness Initiative; and she hopes to see the International Linear Collider "built right here in Illinois."
The ACI, announced in the State of the Union message in January, includes funding for training 70,000 math and science teachers, a policy Rep. Biggert has also championed. The initiative is intended boost the nation's competitiveness in the global economy. Rep. Biggert cited the report "Rising Above the Gathering Storm," from a National Academies panel chaired by Wednesday evening speaker Norman Augustine, which described the US losing ground to India and China in the critical areas of scientific papers published and patents awarded.
"We've always led by our inventiveness and creativity," Rep. Biggert said. "This is where it starts: in basic research."
With an awareness that Congress faces important decisions in the next few years on funding the ILC, Rep. Biggert also described the importance of continued investment in research and development toward a prototype offering a clearer picture of the machine and its costs. She stressed the need to help Congress and the public understand the scientific prospects for the ILC and its benefits to the public.
"Your students are one of your most important products," she said. "Who they are, where they go, and how they benefit society."
Rep. Biggert has personal experience with "student-products" of Fermilab: her son attended Saturday Morning Physics classes during high school, and is now an engineer. She also emphasized that "discovery sells itself," urging her audience of physicists to avoid reaching for examples of spinoffs as justifications.
"Don't be afraid to tout your discoveries," Rep. Biggert said. "Discoveries are as American as apple pie. Don't be fooled by questions about practical applications. The ILC won't be built because superconducting magnets made [Magnetic Resonance Imaging] possible. Discovery sells itself. Public support for [maintaining] the Hubble Telescope has been quite significant. Look at the kinds of questions you are trying to answer: How did the universe come to be? Particle physics has great material to work with."