Fermi National Laboratory

Volume 26  |  Friday, February 14, 2003  |  Number 3
In This Issue  |  FermiNews Main Page

Tough Days Ahead with FY04 Science Funding

John Marburger

by Mike Perricone

Washington, D.C. - As Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy,and chief science advisor to the President of the U.S., John Marburger has found that being on the inside doesn’t always translate into a comfort zone.

“I’ve never been this close to the budget process before, and it’s a harrowing experience,” Marburger told the Council of Presidents of Universities Research Association,Inc., at its annual meeting on January 30 at the National Academy of Sciences.

Marburger’s budget previews, coupled with the February 3 release of President Bush’s budget proposal for FY04,gave signs of more harrowing days ahead for high-energy physics. At least in the short term,the old optimist-pessimist argument could currently reduce to whether the budget was one-third full or two-thirds empty.

With the complicating factor that Congress has yet to approve discretionary spending for FY03,funding for the field of high-energy physics is due for a 1.8%increase.With no current budget enacted,that percentage of increase is based on the Amended Request for FY03 in the Department of Energy ’s Office of Science.High-energy physics actually did slightly better than the Office of Science as a whole,which registered a 1.4% gain over the FY03 Amended Request (1.4%is approximately the rate money market funds are drawing at the bank).

“Actions by the new congress [on pending FY03 legislation ]will include 3% across-the-board cuts to pay for new initiatives,”Marburger said.“The science advances we worked very hard for will be wiped out. That’s disturbing,but that ’s the way it ’s worked out.”

Marburger knows this landscape well, as the former Director of Brookhaven National Laboratory,and as a former Chairman of the Board of Trustees for URA.He added that even increases for the National Science Foundation might not be on track for the mandated doubling of NSF funding over the next five years.

While the news wasn’t especially good, neither was it especially surprising. And there was a guarded sense of possible improvements in years ahead.

“We understand that our national priorities and the state of the economy make this a tough budget year,” said Fermilab Director Michael Witherell, after the budget numbers were released. “However, it will be very difficult under the FY2004 budget for Fermilab to carry out our scientific research mission. We are encouraged by the growing recognition in Washington of the need for increased support of the physical sciences, and we hope this will translate into funding increases for high-energy physics and for Fermilab in the years ahead.”

In fact, Marburger held out hope to the URA gathering for future budget increases. He cited the preamble to the FY04 budget, which includes a recommendation from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) for increased funding in the physical sciences.

“It’s important to look at the language in the budget, in a year where there’s not as much money in the treasury as we hoped,” Marburger said.

The report by the PCAST Panel on Federal Investment in Science and Technology and Its National Benefits, chaired by president G. Wayne Clough of Georgia Institute of Technology, made this its first recommendation:

“All evidence points to a need to improve funding levels for physical sciences and engineering. Continuation of present patterns will lead to an inability to sustain our nation’s technical and scientific leadership. We recommend that beginning with the FY04 budget and carrying through the next four fiscal years, funding for physical sciences and engineering across the relevant agencies be adjusted upward to bring them collectively to parity with the life sciences.”

Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), chair of the House Science Committee, added his belief that the future outlook for R&D is “reasonably good.” He cited both the current focus on security issues, and what he saw as an emerging consensus on the need for research funding.

“The emphasis on Homeland Security could presage R&D spending over a wide range,” Boehlert said. “The war against terrorism will be won as much in the laboratory as on the battlefield…Both Congress and the Administration realize that a large increase in research spending is long overdue. We have the House and Senate on the same wavelength on science funding, and that hasn’t always been true. The stalemate over appropriations is the result of a larger breakdown in the process. Science funding has stayed out of the target range of ideological conflict.”

If an improved outlook does come to light, Boehlert acknowledged there would be countless questions about priorities. But responding to a question from the floor, Marburger was clear on one priority for high-energy physics—the next big accelerator, with the main issues surrounding how to get it built.

“The linear collider is the right kind of machine to build, but it’s very expensive,” Marburger said. “What’s needed to convince [the Office of Management and the Budget] on funding for linear collider research, is a lot more work on the international roadmap to be followed for the necessary work on this project. My office has some ideas on how this can be done. We will be talking with the Department of Energy and OMB, and see what we can come up with.”

Marburger backs the concept of an international laboratory. But he is known to be concerned that a model for the project management must emphasize accountability to all the governments involved, and must ensure the financial support of all the governments involved.

Witherell assured the Council of Presidents that Fermilab and the U.S. have met their obligations well for Large Hadron Collider magnets and Compact Muon Solenoid detector components for CERN, the European Particle Physics Laboratory. He said the lab was looking forward to presenting early results from Collider Run II of the Tevatron at the major conferences next summer, which he described as “a benchmark for the field.”

Under Secretary of Energy Robert Card, who has energy, science, and the environment, reported being “very impressed with what I saw” on his visit to Fermilab and stressed the need for “continuing this impressive legacy.” He added: “We need to make sure the lab has the institutional stability to achieve its scientific goals.”

National Science Foundation director Rita Colwell focused on the decisions that are being made on science and security, urging scientists to be “active partners in formulating policies, or else it will be done without our insight, reason and wisdom.”

As a former laboratory director, Marburger is also well acquainted with the need for openness in scientific work, and he expressed concern for maintaining a balance with security issues. He also emphasized the differences among DOE laboratories.

“We need an ongoing discussion of the roles of the labs, and on the balance of openness and security,” Marburger said. “Not all the labs are the same. We have to take into account their differences. For example, labs with very large university-based user communities have to operate in ways that make the lab accessible to those users. That has to play a large role in security arrangements at labs like Fermilab.”

The Budget: DOE Office of Science
Marburger, Boehlert Lament Visa Backlog

Universities Research Association,Inc. www.ura-hq.org
PCAST report on Assessing U.S.R&D Investment www.ostp.gov/PCAST/pcast2002rpt
Office of Science and Technology Policy www.ostp.gov

last modified 1/31/2003   email Fermilab