Status Report

AIP FYI #32: Required Reading: Science Committee Chairman Boehlert on Science Funding

By SpaceRef Editor
March 15, 2004
Filed under , ,

House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) was the
keynote speaker today at a workshop for the future National
Synchrotron Light Source at Brookhaven National Laboratory.
Boehlert’s remarks at this workshop, as they are at hearings, were
to the point, and concerned a constant problem in Washington:
money. This year that problem is greater than it has been in a long
time, so Boehlert’s words are particularly important. Selections

“But one doesn’t need a degree in physics to understand the value of
a scientific tool that furthers human understanding of matter while
answering practical questions in materials science and biology; a
tool that is of use to both academic and industrial researchers; a
tool that attracts the best researchers from throughout the world.
The U.S. simply must invest to upgrade its capabilities in this
area, building on the expertise that Brookhaven and the researchers
who use its facilities have developed over the last few decades.

“What I’ve just said is a simple, straightforward, totally
defensible statement of need, but it won’t bring a new light source
into being. For that, you need money.

“And money is what I want to focus on in my remaining time with you
today. You can tell me about the fundamental aspects of matter, but
money is the fundamental building block of the tools you need to
study matter.

“Just to bring that point home with a little more specificity, let
me say a word about the Department of Energy’s (DOE) 20-year
facilities plan. As you know, that plan lists a new synchrotron
light source as one of the Department’s highest priorities in the
period that begins about 15 years from now. I know that you would
like to move that timing up.

“Let me say first that Ray Orbach, the head of DOE’s Office of
Science, deserves tremendous credit for undertaking the planning
exercise that led to the facilities plan and for bringing it to

“This is exactly the sort of deliberative, long-term planning that
we need more of. In fact, we’re encouraging the National Science
Foundation (NSF) to put together a similar kind of process for its
large facilities account. I should add that NSF’s task will be even
tougher than Ray’s was because NSF funds an even wider array of

“But here’s something you might not realize about the 20-year
facilities plan – because the plan never makes it explicit.

“The DOE plan, like any plan, had to be built on budget assumptions
that set the parameters of the possible. And what were the tacit
budget assumptions behind the DOE facilities plan? They were the
numbers in the comprehensive Energy Bill, H.R. 6, which the House
passed last year. That bill is now stalled in the Senate, perhaps
forever. Those numbers, which were developed by the Science
Committee, call for the budget of the Office of Science to almost
double over the next five years.

“Now even if the Energy Bill managed to get out of the Senate and
were signed into law, that would hardly guarantee such increases for
the Office of Science. As I’m sure most of you know, authorization
bills, like the Energy Bill, just provide guidance and policy
direction; annual appropriations determine actual spending.

“And what’s the actual spending look like? Well, for fiscal 2005,
which will begin in October, the authorized level in the Energy Bill
for the Office of Science is $4.2 billion; the Administration’s
request for fiscal 2005 is significantly less, $3.4 billion.

“It’s far too early in the Congressional budget season to guess what
final funding for the Office of Science will be, but it’s safe to
say that it’s not going to reach $4.2 billion – not in a year when
the President has proposed increasing all non-security discretionary
spending by just half a percent, and Congress is moving to cut that
number down to zero.

“So the message I want to leave you with today is that all of us –
all of us – need to do a lot of missionary work if anything in the
DOE planning document is to become a reality. I don’t think I’m
exaggerating by saying that. The Office of Science has said, quite
properly, that if funding is less than expected, its first priority
will be to keep its current equipment running as many weeks of the
year as possible.

“Now let me give you some hints on how to go about doing the
missionary work that is required. First, don’t start by assuming
that folks in Washington are out to get scientists. Nothing could be
further from the truth. Indeed, in the proposed fiscal 2005 budget,
science agencies are slated to receive some of the largest increases
– less than I’d prefer, but more than other agencies.

“Just about everyone on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue would like
to do as much as possible for science – especially for the physical
sciences, which have been going through a period of relative neglect
as funding for biomedical research has skyrocketed in recent years.
So don’t start by assuming that Washington’s goal is to harm or
ignore science.

“Here’s another approach not to take. Don’t tell Members of Congress
that you’re different because you’re not looking to help yourselves
in the short-run; you’re looking for money that is a long-term
investment for the entire nation.

“Sure, science funding is just that sort of investment. But so are
education and road building and defense spending and human space
flight; the list of possible investments goes on and on.

“And guess what? Congress is not besieged by groups asking for money
that they describe as necessary to help their own narrow interests
in the short run. The argument that science funding is a long-term
national investment does nothing to set scientists apart. All that
sets you apart is that scientists are the only group that thinks
they’re making a unique argument.

“So you need to argue on the facts. I feel safe in saying, without
insulting any of my colleagues, that most of them know even less
about synchrotron light sources than I do. They need to hear from
you – and especially from those of you in industry and your CEOs –
why a light source, or any other piece of equipment or area of
research, is important. They – we – need to learn from you what the
nation will actually be giving up if you aren’t able to succeed.

“That won’t be the end of the story. We in the Congress will still
have our duty to choose among competing priorities. The budget is
always a constraint, and it’s more constraining now that it has been
in a long time.

“Right now, for example, as Science chairman, I especially have to
wrestle with the President’s proposed space exploration initiative.
It’s a thoughtful proposal, and no doubt would be worthy of
immediate funding in a universe in which money was no object. But we
don’t live in that universe, and we’re not likely to find one like
it in the future.

“So I have to weigh that proposal against other priorities, and get
more information about its costs and its benefits and its timing
before I can make a decision on how I think we should proceed.

“As part of my decision-making, one matter I have to weigh is the
relative merit of additional funding for NASA versus additional
funding for other federal science agencies, particularly NSF, which
competes head-to-head for funding with NASA because they’re in the
same appropriations bill. Believe me, this isn’t an easy task.

“But I couldn’t even begin to undertake that kind of analysis if I
didn’t know what the expenditures of the various agencies might mean
to our country. I’m lucky; I’ve got dozens of staff on the Science
Committee who give me that information and help me sort through
these questions.

“But science isn’t – and can’t be – that kind of focus for every
Member; they have to focus primarily on their own Committee
assignments and district interests. They won’t know anything about
any of this unless they hear from people like you – and hear from
you regularly, back home, and in a thoughtful manner.

“Now this may not be the kind of speech – or should I say,
‘lecture’? – that you most wanted to hear today. And I’m sure the
rest of this conference will focus, as it should, on the many
exciting technical questions that designing a new synchrotron poses
and on the mind-boggling opportunities that having such a machine
would present.

“But please remember as you have those discussions that a new
synchrotron will remain an example of very theoretical physics
unless work is done to make funding for it a political reality. I
will do everything I possibly can to help you, but I can’t do it

“The future of science funding will depend on many things beyond
your control – the macroeconomic situation, the nature of competing
needs, etc. But it will also depend on how actively you can make
people like me understand why what you’re about is important to our
nation. I look forward to working with you as you do that.”

Richard M. Jones

Media and Government Relations Division

The American Institute of Physics

(301) 209-3094

SpaceRef staff editor.