The chronic shortage of funds is revealing itself – everywhere I look. From the big stuff to the small things.
The Army Corps of Engineers project to shore up the New Orleans levees was underfunded, and the project was stretched out. Had the project been completed in a timely fashion, the levees might have held. Or they might not have – we’ll never know.
The funds for FEMA were cut and it was demoted from a cabinet position and folded into the Dept of Homeland Security. We all know what happened next.
On my first day back at SLAC last week, home from Aspen, I attended two meetings. One to determine if we had enough funds to cover our graduate students this year; and the second degenerated into a discussion of whether we need to cut back the SLAC Summer Institute due to lack of funds. And yet we all hear the rhetoric that this country needs more trained scientists.
My next day back, I flew to DC on a bankrupt airline. I almost missed my flight while standing in line to check my bag because the airline no longer staffs enough personnel to wait on its customers in a timely fashion.
While in DC, I attended a 2-day meeting as a member of a subpanel of the High Energy Physics Advisory Panel. Our first task is to advise the DOE and NSF as to whether the two main collider programs in the US should be terminated early. The Tevatron Collider at Fermilab and the B-Factory at SLAC. Both are at the height of their productivity, although admittedly, both have had some problems. The hope is that any money saved can be used to start new initiatives rather than disappearing into a budget blackhole. But how can we be sure? From here on, my lips (and typing fingers) are sealed until our report is finished and made public later this Fall.
The Nuclear Physics community has already been asked to make a choice between the newly built Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven National Laboratory, which is running well, and the newly built, well-run Jefferson National Laboratory.
The fusion community is squabbling over the choice of joining International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) (at a level of 10% of the project cost) or funding their domestic program.
Today, from where I sit, it’s not just a matter of the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots; the very fabric of this country is shredding apart.