The news from Capitol Hill this week is terrible. Congress has finally passed an omnibus spending bill for Fiscal Year 2008 – this is a bundled package of 11 appropriations bills that fund the operation of our government. The House of Representatives passed the bill on Monday, the Senate on Tuesday, and now it is being prepared for the President’s signature. We have been under a continuing resolution since 1 October, 2007, which is the start of FY08, and had been welcoming the end of the stand-off between Congress and the President so we would have an actual budget for the year. That was last week. This week, we wish we could be funded via a continuing resolution all year long, just like last year.
In short, this omnibus spending bill is at best disappointing, and at worst a total disaster, for science funding in the US. Overall, the research agencies all received a meager increase in their budgets (roughly 1% for NIH, 2% for NSF, 3% for NASA, and 2% for the DOE). That’s disappointing because these increases don’t keep up with inflation, are far, far short of the Administration’s request and the American Competitiveness Initiative, and won’t support all the scientific projects in the pipeline.
The disaster occurs in two specific areas, Fusion Energy Sciences and High Energy Physics, which are targeted for deep, roughly 10%, cuts. The cut in fusion research comes about because the bill provides zero funding for the US contribution to ITER. Let me remind you that ITER is the large international fusion reactor that is currently being constructed in France and is funded by international treaty. The US has signed that treaty and was set to contribute roughly $160 M this year. Apparently Congress just doesn’t understand that there are serious ramifications in backing out of an international treaty. Even one dedicated solely to science projects. This jeopardizes future international projects and provides yet further proof that the US is not a reliable partner. I imagine that the DOE Office of Science will find a way, somehow, to restore funding to ITER.
For High Energy Physics, well, the situation is dire, and I am not exaggerating. The numbers are:
This is a reduction of $63.5 M from FY07 and $94 M from the President’s FY08 request. The language specifically targets NovA (a neutrino facility under construction at Fermilab) and the International Linear Collider:
Within funding for Proton Accelerator-Based Physics, no funds are provided for the NOvA activity in Tevatron Complex Improvements. Within Advanced Technology R&D, in the current constrained environment and without a Critical Decision 0 by the
Department, only $15,000,000 is provided for International Linear Collider R&D and $5,455,000 for Superconducting RF R&D.
Since we are already 3 months into FY08, we’ve already spent this much on the ILC and have put money into NOvA.
So, WTF do we do? Even though the $63.5/94 M shortfall is targeted at projects, it’s important to recall that most of this money is spent on salaries. Not equipment or fancy gizmos, but people. Basically, there are two extreme choices on how to handle the shortfall: shut down all of our operating facilities now, today (yesterday would have been better) and halt science output from the US, or fire $63.5 M worth of people. Don’t ask me how you accomplish the latter. The final solution will clearly be a mix of the two. The young physicists, grad students and post-docs, will be hurt the most as funding for those positions will dry up first. Next come the folks who work at National Labs. We’re going to have to start a discussion about closing and consolidating labs.
It will take a little bit for the DOE, lab directors, project managers, advisory panels, etc to formulate a plan, but no matter what they decide, the consequences of this budget shortfall will be drastic and will be felt for years to come. Our science output will be reduced and we will lose good people with valuable talents.
Oh, and just so folks can calibrate, the countries in the European Union spend about $2 B/year on High Energy Physics, roughly $1 B for CERN, and another billion in individual grants. Germany alone has just infused its total science funding with an additional $2 B Euros. The US continues to fall further and further behind.