The White House and the Congress, several months into the 2008 fiscal year, finally seem to have come to agreement on a budget, one that fully funds the Iraq war, but has a huge cut in the budget for DOE particle physics research. According to the AIP FYI bulletin, the DOE HEP budget for FY2007 was $751.8 million, and the White House had requested and Congressional committees agreed to $782.3 million for FY2008. The new budget agreement provides only $688.3 million, an 8.5 percent cut from last year. The cut eliminates funding for NOvA this year at Fermilab, and effectively shuts down R and D on the ILC, providing only 25% of the requested amount, much of which has already been spent.
Pier Oddone, the director of Fermilab writes in the December 18 Fermilab Today:
This is a body blow to the future of the ILC, the U.S. role in it and Fermilab…. These proposed cuts, which come on top of the very limited particle physics budgets of the last few years, are destructive of our field and our laboratory. There is no way to sugar-coat this… If this bill becomes law I will be discussing consequences with you in more detail. Until then, I and many others who understand this disaster in the making are trying to inform Congress and the Administration of the dire consequences to the U.S. particle physics research program. These may be unintended consequences that were not considered in the pressure-cooker atmosphere that accompanies an omnibus budget bill.
It’s not clear to me what the prospects are for doing anything about this at this late date in the budget process.
Update: Also here, here, and here. A spokesperson for Fermilab says “This is the worst funding crisis in the history of the laboratory, no exaggeration” and that one option being considered is shutting down the lab for a few months. Lederman places the blame on spending for the Iraq war and says “I’ve been around this lab since it was all farmland, and I can’t remember a crisis of this severity”. Part of the problem may be the resignation of Dennis Hastert, who had been both the House Speaker and the representative for the district including Fermilab.
Update: JoAnne Hewett has more at Cosmic Variance.
Update: At an all-hands meeting at Fermilab, the director announced that the budget of the lab would be cut $52 million over what they had been expecting for the rest of the fiscal year. Dealing with this will require eliminating 200 full-time-equivalent positions, about 10% of the people working at the lab. They will immediately start shutting down ILC and NOvA, They will try and not shut-down the lab, focusing on keeping the Tevatron running, but will have a system of rolling 2 day/month furloughs, with not everyone furloughed at once. He said the first he heard about this was on Monday. It remains unclear who was responsible for this decision, which seems to have been taken in haste, with very few people involved. It also remains very unclear what this means for next year’s budget, or for the future of the ILC and NOvA.
Part of the story here seems to have been that there was a Congressional decision to fund member’s earmarks, while cutting scientific research that was not funded this way.
The APS has issued a press release about this which states:
This action sends a strong message to the world: The U.S. is prepared to jettison support for one of our flagship areas of science that probes fundamental laws of the universe.
The press release also criticizes the Congressional decision to preserve and expand earmarks while cutting other programs:
The APS notes with some dismay that had Congress applied the same discipline to earmarking as it did last year, the damage to the science and technology enterprise could have been avoided.
Update: One peculiar aspect of this story is how little attention it has gotten from the press (other than the local Illinois press) and from science blogs, where all I’ve seen is mention at Cosmic Variance and Tommaso Dorigo’s blog.
The congressional representatives for the Fermilab district have put out a press release (on the Durbin and Biggert web-sites, looks like Obama couldn’t be bothered to put it up) calling on the DOE Office of Science to “increase the funding request” for HEP in the proposed FY 2009 budget. The language used seems to me to be rather weak, since it doesn’t mention either a size of increase or what base to use. See this comment that just came in for possible news about attempts to restore some of the Fermilab funding.