Budget News

Almost five months into FY 2011, the US still has no budget for the year, operating on a continuing resolution that funds the government at FY 2010 levels until March 4. The House Republicans have come up with a proposal for huge budget cuts, which would arrive late in the fiscal year, probably requiring national labs like Fermilab to essentially shutdown for the remainder of the fiscal year. John Conway has more about this here. No one seems to seriously believe this proposal will pass into law.

This morning, the White House announced its budget proposal for FY 2012. The DOE Office of Science would get a healthy increase, to $5.416 billion from $4.964 billion in 2010. Similarly, the NSF would go from $6.873 billion to $7.768. However, the Administration’s FY 2011 request ended up being pretty much irrelevant, and it’s not clear that this one will fare any better. No information yet on how HEP and mathematics fare specifically in these requests.

So, bottom line is that no one really knows what this year or next year’s budget numbers will be, with the House proposal a lower bound for this year, and I suspect the president’s proposal will be an upper bound for next year.

Midday tomorrow, Fermilab director Oddone will give an all-hands talk at Fermilab to discuss the implications of all this for the lab.

Update: At the DOE, the FY2012 request for High Energy Physics is $797 million, versus $791 million in FY 2010 (last year at this time, the FY 2011 request was for $829 million). More details here.

Details of the NSF budget request are here. Mathematics research goes from $241 million in FY 2010 to $260 million in FY 2012. Physics from $290 million to $300 million. The NSF has pulled the plug on the DUSEL lab, freeing up $36 million/year, which is repurposed towards what they describe as their three priority areas: physics of the universe, quantum information science and the physics-biology interface.

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6 Responses to Budget News

  1. Dave Miller says:


    What is your take on the NSF priorities: “physics of the universe, quantum information science and the physics-biology interface”?

    My own take is that “physics of the universe” (cosmology, I assume) is pretty interesting, that “quantum information science” is amusing but unlikely to really lead anywhere, and that “the physics-biology interface” sounds really important, except that I am not quite sure what it means.

    Dave Miller in Sacramento.

  2. Peter Woit says:


    Well, at least it’s “physics of the universe” (whatever that means, presumably astrophysics/cosmology), and not “physics of the multiverse”.
    The other two choices for priority are hot topics of this millenium, so not surprising. I don’t know enough about research in those areas to have an opinion about how well-justified choice of them is.

    What is more interesting to me is what is now not a priority: accelerator-based high energy physics.

  3. cath says:

    “What is more interesting to me is what is now not a priority: accelerator-based high energy physics.”

    That is a very astute observation. Robert Wilson, the first director of Fermilab (originally just NAL), explicitly compared the large new synchrotrons to the large cathedrals of medieval Europe. Wilson Hall at Fermilab is intended to resemble a pair of hands in prayer, and inspired by a cathedral in Beauvais, France.

    Perhaps the large accelerators will go the way of the old large cathedrals. Constructing cathedrals no longer holds as central place in society as it once did. Cathedrals are still built (and still respected), but built using very different materials and techniques. Perhaps new large accelerators will continue to be built (occasionally?), but with new technologies.

  4. The Cosmist says:

    On the issue of accelerator-based HEP, isn’t the issue one of severely diminishing returns? I hate to be so practical, but what is the potential impact of this kind of research on human scales? I think the observation about cathedrals is astute, but even theological enterprises have their limits.

    I’m rather dismayed by the fact that, though we can understand mathematically the behavior of elementary particles, model the evolution of the universe almost from its inception and can see galaxies 13 billion light years in the distance, we still haven’t found a suitable replacement for burning dead plants to power our civilization! Aren’t we guilty of “fiddling while Rome burns”, since without energy to power our technology none of the big science required by physics will be possible in the future? I suppose string theory will still be possible in a powered-down post-fossil fuel civilization, but you can forget about any more super-colliders ever again! Maybe physicists need to expend more intellectual energy on applications that can revolutionize life on human scales such as new energy sources, propulsion systems, new modes of industry, computing, communication, etc. – something I haven’t seen a lot of in recent decades!

  5. Eric says:

    Dear Cosmist,

    I think that nuclear/particle physicists gave the world an alternative source of energy to fossil fuels a long time ago, nuclear power. That’s what will power the accelerators in the future. Most likely, the LHC already gets most of its electricity from nuclear power plants.

    On a different topic, I thought that it was DoE that basically funded the national labs and particle accelerators rather than NSF?

  6. Peter Woit says:

    In my comment about NSF priorities, I should have just said “particle physics”, not specifying accelerator-based.


    DOE funds Fermilab and much of experimental HEP in the US, but the NSF also funds experimental HEP, through experiments at the LHC and the Tevatron. In the past they have operated accelerator centers (CESR at Cornell), although no longer. They’ve also just recently pulled out of funding the DUSEL underground lab, which has created a problem.