A Letter from the Fermilab Director

By Sean Carroll | January 5, 2007 2:40 pm

Sadly, not about physics, but about funding issues that might lead to temporary layoffs and other severe cutbacks.

from: Fermilab Today
to: usersorg@fnal.gov
date: Jan 5, 2007 10:16 AM
subject: Message to Users from the Fermilab Director

A message from the director: Continuing Resolution

In December, Congress passed the third “continuing resolution” or “CR” to fund the federal budget for fiscal year 2007 at the 2006 level. Also in December, the incoming chairs of the House and Senate appropriations committees stated their intent to pass a “joint budget resolution” for the remainder of the fiscal year. The committee chairs were careful not to specify the level of the joint funding resolution and explicitly stated their intent to mitigate as much as possible the adverse consequences that would result from such resolution. However, there has been broad speculation that the result may be a continuing resolution at the FY06 level for the remainder of the FY07 fiscal year. This would have very negative effects on many federally funded programs throughout the country, including the physical sciences and Fermilab.

Last month, DOE Under Secretary Orbach requested, and we provided, an analysis of the impact and a contingency plan should the level of Fermilab funding remain at the FY06 level. I want to share with you the unvarnished consequences of such a budget as we have presented it to DOE (see links below). Of course the specifics may change as things unfold. Among other measures, the contingency plan includes the possibility of a month-long furlough, or temporary layoff from work, of all Fermilab employees except those required for safety and for essential activities.

I want to assure you that, at this stage, this is only a contingency plan. Should such measures become necessary, I will consult with the laboratory management about how best to proceed. In the meantime, we are working very hard to make sure that the consequences of a reduced budget level are understood at all government levels and to make the strongest case to redress the situation and avert these consequences. Thanks to your extraordinary efforts, the remarkable results on the Tevatron, the neutrino program and ILC R&D make a powerful case for support.

We don’t plan on layoffs for FY07; they would not help much in achieving significant savings this year. We expect that the president’s budget request for FY08 will be supportive of the physical sciences and of Fermilab so that layoffs will not be necessary.

Last year, at the request of Congress, the National Academy carried out a study on American competitiveness that resulted in the report “Rising Above the Gathering Storm.” The report pointed to the critical need for the country to increase its investment in the physical sciences in order to remain competitive among the nations of the world. The president’s budget and subsequent congressional committees have recognized this critical need with broad bipartisan support. A CR at the FY06 level maintained for the full year would amount to a cut in funding, due to inflation, at a time when increased support is called for. This would undermine progress in the physical sciences and the world-competitive position of the U.S. in science and technology. I am optimistic that this will not be allowed to happen.

You will surely have many questions. I may not have a lot of answers, but for employees who would like to meet informally with me, I will be available to provide whatever information I have on Monday, January 8, at noon in One West.

For more information, visit this website: http://www.fnal.gov/pub/today/SpecialCorner.html.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science and Politics
  • Chris W.

    On a less melancholy subject: Special mention for Science Magazine‘s special issue, focusing on particle astrophysics and cosmology.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance JoAnne

    SLAC had to do this a couple years back. Every SLAC employee worked for 2 weeks without pay. Lay-offs followed the next 2 years. It’s been pretty grim for the physical sciences for a long time now.

  • Jeff

    that’s utterly depressing. NASA’s in the same CR mode too, but I haven’t heard anything about layoffs or furloughs at all.

  • http://www.fiu.edu/~markowit Pete Markowitz

    Sadly, Fermilab is in “good company”, meaning other labs are also facing the same problem. Within minutes of receiving the notification by Fermilab, I received the following, similar notification by Jefferson Lab:

    Dear Jefferson Lab Users,

    I am sure that the broad media coverage of the subject has alerted you that Congress will most likely fund the Department of Energy and indeed most of the Government through a yearlong Continuing Resolution. As you may remember, the President’s Budget Request for FY 2007 had significant increases for the Office of Science and Nuclear Physics and included $7M PED funds for the 12 GeV Upgrade. Despite passage in both the House and Senate, the lack of a final bill before the installation of the 110th Congress has made a long-term continuing resolution the most likely funding scenario for this year. There are still open questions about the details and there may be room for some mitigating adjustments, but in a worst-case scenario, the Office of Science and therefore Nuclear Physics will be funded at the FY 06 level.

    Although our final FY07 budget has not yet been determined, I believe it is important to inform the Jefferson Lab user community of the impacts that funding at this level would have on this Laboratory, its operations and its programs. In view of the uncertainty in the budget situation for FY07, we are forced to consider the recently posted accelerator schedule as “firm” only through March 25. You will remember that in FY06, Jefferson Lab funding was cut 8% relative to FY05, resulting in a major impact on the laboratory. Funding carried over from FY 05 mitigated the impact somewhat, but the Lab still had to institute a broad range of cost-cutting measures including voluntary separations to reduce staff. These measures, including a major improvement in the operation of the cryoplant that cut operating costs by $1k/day, and an extended period of low energy running (and reduced multiplicity and experiment turnover), allowed us to deliver a substantial fraction (~2/3) of the experimental program we had originally planned for FY06.
    Indeed, the only reason we can continue running between now and late in the second quarter of FY07 is due to the fact that the machine energy is unusually low (to accommodate the G0 backward angle beam energy requirements), resulting in low-impact, low-cost operation for the set of experiments that have already been installed. If the worst-case scenario becomes real, i.e. if the actual budget for FY07 including the 12 GeV Upgrade is held to the FY06 budget level we will be forced to terminate experimental research using CEBAF for the remainder of the year. This will result in a major loss of research output, cutting the hall-weeks of operation by more than a factor of two for FY07. The necessary reduction in spending on capital equipment will also have a very serious effect on the preparation of experiments planned in FY08 and beyond.

    This situation is very serious for JLab as an institution and for you, its users. We cannot exclude the possibility, however, that the Joint Budget Resolution that will succeed the current CR in mid-February leaves room for some compromises, and I can assure you that many constituencies are engaged in efforts to achieve a less severe outcome. Looking beyond FY 07, we have every reason to believe that the Administration will for FY 08 and the outyears request budgets consistent with those proposed for FY07 and beyond as part of the American Competitiveness Initiative — including support for the 12 GeV Upgrade. When these higher funding levels become available, we intend to resume operations broadly following the plan laid out in the recently released “firm” portion of the schedule (i.e. the experiments planned through June of 2007) and to evaluate the “tentative” portion of the schedule (i.e. experiments currently planned for the second half of 2007) in the manner that we always do for the research program.

    I deeply regret having to bring you bad news, but I hope this letter will provide you with some of the information you are looking for. I also realize that the situation is very dynamic, allows very few definitive statements, and may have raised more questions than given answers. I urge you to call or visit me if you would like to talk or hear more about these issues. Personally, I see the current situation as a very serious and painful setback, but I firmly believe that the growing broad support for science will continue and find its expression in appropriate budgets.

    Christoph Leemann

    The comparison I keep coming back to is the cost of a single cruise missile, versus hamstringing the nation’s science. As a country, we seem to be much more willing to destroy thean to build.


  • http://www.valdostamuseum.org/hamsmith/ Tony Smith

    Pete compared “… the cost of a single cruise missile, versus hamstringing the nation’s science …”.

    Another interesting comparison is the ILC (somewhere between $6 billion and $12 billion or so)
    with a new aircraft carrier.

    According to a navy web page at http://www.navy.mil/navydata/fact_display.asp?cid=4200&tid=250&ct=4
    “… The CVN 21 Program is the future aircraft carrier replacement program for USS Enterprise and CVN 68-Class aircraft carriers. …
    The total cost to build the lead ship … CVN 78 … is $8.1B in FY08$.
    The Navy expects to award the CVN 78 construction contract in FY08 with an expected delivery in FY15. …
    the total ownership cost for CVN 78 … over its 50 year service life … is expected to be $26.8B …”.

    In short, the USA could probably completely fund the ILC all by itself by foregoing a new navy aircraft carrier.

    It should be noted that aircraft carriers in the 21st century may be rendered obsolete by missiles, whose technology is far advanced since the carrier’s heyday of World War II.

    Since the USA now has 3 carrier groups in the Persian Gulf region (the latest being the Stennis which according to a DEBKA web article is being deployed “as a warning to Syria and Iran”),
    and since Iran around November 2006 “… demonstrated up-to-date missile-launching technology which the West had not known them to possess. They also displayed unfamiliar warheads. …” (see another DEBKA web article),
    it is possible that the near future may see a conflict testing whether or not 21st century missiles will render aircraft carriers obsolete for fighting anyone with 21st century weapons.

    I don’t know what would happen in such a conflict, but one military commentator whose web pages are at http://www.exile.ru/archive/by_author/gary_brecher.html said back around December 2002:

    “… A few years ago, a US submarine commander said, “There are two kinds of ship in the US Navy: subs and targets.”
    The fact that big surface ships are dinosaurs is something that’s gotten clearer every decade since 1921. … the aircraft carrier is now: a big, proud, expensive…sitting duck. Aircraft carriers came out of WW II looking powerful, but that was before microchips. …
    what about Iran? … The Iranians are … smart, they’re dedicated, and they hate us like poison. … Give the Navy the benefit of the doubt and say they get 90% of the incoming missiles. You still end up with a dead carrier. …
    … if Iran gets involved, those carriers won’t last one day. … And the sickest part is that the admirals and the captains and the contractors all know it. …
    it won’t be the brass who die. It’ll be the poor trusting kids on those carriers who’ll die, the poor suckers who thought they’d get free training and a world tour, or even get the chance to “defend America.” They’ll die not even believing what’s happening to them as the whole giant hulk starts cracking up and sliding into the water. …”.

    Tony Smith

  • http://www.trsohbet.gen.tr Sohbet

    Thanks Fermilab.


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Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .


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