Disastrous FY 2008 DOE Budget

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: More here, here, here and here.

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.

Update: The Obama web-site now has the press release. There’s an article about this today in the New York Times.

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62 Responses to Disastrous FY 2008 DOE Budget

  1. Peter Woit says:

    Alexey,

    Sorry, I forgot the posting on your blog. The NY Times article came out today, quite a while after I wrote what you quote. Until that story, I know of nothing at all in the national press, just local Ilinois stories.

    Was the DOE site visit after they had the bad news about the FY 2008 budget?

    I thought a plan to shut down BaBar after the current run had been made long ago, is that not true? Shutting down the Tevatron next year would be pretty crazy. Between that, the situation at SLAC, and the congressional language shutting down the ILC, Project X and NOvA, that would pretty much be the end of experimental HEP in the US.

  2. Peter,

    > “Was the DOE site visit after they had the bad news about the FY 2008 budget?”

    No, but they anticipated the results — and told us that the bill will likely be passed by the Congress and signed by the President (it appears that they could judge the behaviour of the Congress on the short-time-scale reasonably well). So they planned 2% cuts across the board for most University groups. We were told that LHC-related programs would be less affected (which is probably why we only got a 2% cut). It is interesting that at this point the Continouous Resolution would be a much better path for the US HEP program.

    Also, on Friday, there was a Science Friday on NPR where at one point they did talk about funding cuts to US science programs, but did not mention the cuts in the Omnibus bill in particular. Actually, it was a very dissappointing SF program — it sounded to me that the panel had no idea what they were talking about.

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  4. Constantine Tynyansky says:

    The theory of superstrings does not require experiments!

  5. Zathras says:

    I have some contacts in Congressional science staff, and I can tell you that the perception is out there that particle physics has the least benefit to society, and this perception is unquestionably why particle is getting the biggest part of the ax.

    So the question is how can this perception be countered? Arguments about the benefits of experiments done long ago, or about the importance of science in general were tried when the SSC was axed, and they did not work then. TPTB want to know what particle physics has done recently. So is there anything the particle physicists have done in the last, say, 20 years to which society can claim a concrete benefit? I ask this not to have a general debate on the worth of particle physics, but to see what kind of coherent argument can be made in a letter to Congressmen.

  6. Peter Woit says:

    Zathras,

    The argument that all of a sudden the US Congress has decided that particle physics needs to be axed since it is not of benefit to society doesn’t explain “Why Now?”. The general arguments about whether the US should or should not be spending 2-3 hundredths of a percent of the federal budget on fundamental research of this kind are exactly the same as they were 20 years ago, when this number was significantly larger. A huge effort has been made over the last few years to sell the importance of particle physics to the public (see the materials available at the SLAC, FNAL, ILC, symmetry magazine, US-LHC, etc. web-sites).

    Last year, the White House put out a proposed budget making physical science research (including HEP research) one of the government’s highest priorities, and the Congress debated this and signed off on it. Then, with no debate, and, to this day, not the slightest explanation of what happened, a huge budget cut for HEP was put in the budget at the absolute last moment. Maybe it was because of generalized private hostility to HEP as not useful, maybe it was because the one or two congressional staffers who decided this don’t like HEP, or maybe it was because they didn’t know what they were doing. Maybe it is because the way things work, the only people responsible for making sure Fermilab gets funded are three members of the Illinois Congressional delegation, and one is incompetent, one was only paying attention to earmarks, and the other was busy campaigning for President.

    The other program that got whacked in the budget was ITER, and it’s hard to think of anything of potentially more practical importance than that. So, while the effort to convince people of the value of continuing to invest a small amount in HEP research is an important one to continue, I think hand-wringing about how HEP is being cut because it is not useful and attempts to put more effort into that argument may not be what is needed. What is needed is to figure out exactly what happened here and make sure it doesn’t happen again next year.

  7. Zathras says:

    PW,

    1) As for “why now,” there is a confluence of factors that has led to an attempt to cut a lot of things across the board. Chief among the factors is the general belief that we are about to head into an economic downturn, so things should be cut sooner rather than later. Many projects have been cut outside of the sciences, and the science cuts are just part of the plan.

    2) Particle physics is the choice among the sciences because a lack of prestige, not just for particle physics, but for physics in general. People can look at biology and chemistry research and perceive concrete good for society. People look at physics and find it wanting.

    3) ITER was also targeted because of the delays and cost overruns it has had which are both enormous, even by the standards of big science. The perception is that the project had high goals but has no chance of meeting them.

    4) Also, the pork barrel spending issue goes back to the SSC. The SSC in the early and mid 90s was repeatedly cited as the biggest pork barrel project ever. Memories of that have made any big particle physics project appear to many to be pork barrel spending.

    5) The efforts to publicize particle physics have done very little to do so. However, even if it did, it would not address the problem that there are (I believe) no full time lobbyists for big science. If you want to keep the funding, that’s what particle physics need, regardless of any distaste for that sort of politicking.

  8. Peter Woit says:

    Zathras,

    I’m still not convinced by your argument that the problem is that people don’t want to fund HEP research because it is not useful, just pork. One of the problems with the DOE budget this year seems to have been the return of an emphasis on pork (e.g. earmarks) this year after last year, when earmarks were eliminated. The only thing that seems to have gotten the Illinois congressional delegation interested in the problems of Fermilab was when they realized that they had just voted for a budget that eliminated lots of jobs in their district. The problem this year seems to have been a Congress mainly interested in pork, but ill-informed about the size of this particular piece of pork.

    I was under the impression that there are lobbyists working in Washington lobbying for science funding, funded by the APS, AAAS, and even Fermilab. At the all-hands meeting, there was a hostile question to Oddone about the people Fermilab has hired to represent them in Washington. I don’t know who those people are, and whether they can engage in lobbying, maybe not if they’re funded by taxpayer money. Perhaps this was all due to not having the right kind of lobbyist, or some lobbyist not doing their job. Maybe instead of getting Jim Simons to fund an accelerator run, he could fund hiring a high-priced lobbying firm, and political donations to the relevant people. I fear that in the present political environment, that sounds to me like a more promising plan than making high-minded arguments about benefits to society…

  9. Zathras says:

    I’m not sure what the applicable lobbying funding rules would be.

    It is interesting to compare the relative advantage biology and chemistry have in regard to lobbying. They have big Pharma which helps them do the lobbying for them. Physics has nothing like such a developed institutional tie to industry. Individual physics groups may have such ties, but such ties are too inconsequential to generate the needed lobbying. For a long time many physicists have eschewed such ties (MGM’s comments about “squalid state physics” are but one early example), and now the physics community is reaping the damage. Fifty years ago such ties were present and were strong. They are now too weak, and this is shown in the lack of an effective lobby.

  10. wb says:

    Zathras,

    I tend to agree with Peter for a couple of reasons. 1) HEP was not targeted until the last minute and then cuts were precisely targeted at Fermilab rather than at the field as a whole. 2) The Fermilab had an advantage of no congressional staffers “minding the store.” 3) There was strong industrialist backing for a large physical sciences boost (including HEP). 4) Antipathy to HEP is generally ascribed to one powerful member from IN. 5) Rather than only looking to how well our HEP community projects benefits to society, one also needs to ask did DOE/SC overlook potentially troublesome members through either neglect or ignorance.

    It is hard to see how one can call SSC pork given that it was thoroughly peer-reviewed in the HEP community and especially in retrospect a far better option than the LHC.

    ITER was a strong technical preference of the US fusion community and was vetted through FESAC. As for zeroing ITER, that was very clearly a slap at the White House which had publicly signed on to ITER support.

    I am not saying that we could not make a better case for HEP and other physical sciences. I am saying that the damage to HEP seems more related to petty politics and the fact that a big cut could be made while affecting primarily one congressional district.

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  12. SLACer says:

    As an engineer at one of those S.F. Bay Area physics labs (the one near Palo Alto), I clearly remember the big boost in financial support that various federal polliticians touted was coming our way. Speeches by the Secretary of Engergy, University big-wigs; a dog-and-pony show it was!

    As a Democrat, I firmly hold the Democratic Congress largely responsible for this funding disaster and I will NOT be granting my Democratic Congressional members from California the honor of my vote. They were too busy funding their earmarks (PORK: oink-oink) and the war(s) to to the right thing. As a result, important projects are being terminated early, postponed, or not getting off of the ground at all. The Babar experiment, strongly supported by the international community, is being terminated seven months early. What message does that send to the international physics community about U.S. support and integrity as a research partner? I will try to bring this issue to light in the coming Presidential primaries and I hope others will do likewise. Let’s see if any of the canditates can give an honest and meaningful reply instead of the usual sound-bite.

    Unfortunately, most of the leading Presidential wanna-bees are in Congress and therefor part of the problem. What’s a voter to do?

    To quote the director of one of the S.F. Bay Area labs:

    “It pains me greatly that at a time when particle physics needs to be ever more international, the political process in the U.S. has resulted in real damage to the relationships with our international partners.”

    Complete text at:

    http://today.slac.stanford.edu/feature/2008/All-Hands-010708.asp

    Our U.S. Federal government has its priorities so messed up that it is just mind-blowing. I just wish enough voters could see this do something about it.