2018 US HEP Budget

HEPAP has been meeting the past couple days, with presentations available here. Much of the discussion is about the President’s 2018 budget proposal recently submitted to Congress, which contains drastic cuts to all sorts of programs, including for support of scientific research. In particular the proposal is to cut the total NSF budget from \$7.5 billion to \$6.65 billion (-11.3%), and the DOE science budget from \$5.4 billion to \$4.47 billion (-17%).

At the DOE, for HEP physics, the cut would be from \$825 million to \$673 million (-18.5%). For topics less popular with the new administration the cuts are even larger, e.g. a 43% cut for biological and environmental research.

At the NSF (numbers with respect to FY 2016), the proposed cut for DMS (Mathematics) is 10.3%, for Physics 8.5% (-\$23.6 million) and for Astronomy 10.3%. The FY 2016 budget number for Physics was \$277 million, of which \$13.2 million went to HEP theory.

Budget cuts on this scale would be extreme and unheard of, requiring shutting down major planned experimental projects. For some sorts of spending, this sort of cut is painful but manageable, but cutting out 18.5% of the spending on an experimental apparatus under construction may likely mean you don’t have an experiment anymore.
The HEPAP presentations are from people working for DOE/NSF and under orders to plan for these cuts and not complain about them, so I think don’t reflect at all what the real implications of such cuts would be.

There’s a summary of discussion here, including a discussion of last year’s HEP theory letter. It sounds like nothing much has been done about that, and it may not get much attention given the current situation.

It’s important though to keep in mind that this budget proposal may very well already be dead on arrival at Congress. Take a look at slide 22 of this presentation that reports that of the staffers and representatives asked about (a preliminary version of) this, only 8.4% were in favor. In recent years the US budgeting process has been quite dysfunctional, with actual budget numbers only appearing at the last minute of an opaque process leading not to a budget but to a “Continuing Resolution”. I doubt anyone has any idea what is going to happen this year, with the passing of something close to this budget probably one of the least likely eventualities. Physicists and mathematicians up in arms about these proposed budget cuts need to keep in mind the context: this budget is an extremely radical proposal of an unparalleled sort, with even larger cuts aimed at groups that are far needier than scientists (for one random example, food stamps are to be cut by 25.3%). Yes, scientists should be organizing to fight this budget, but the impacts on them and their research are one of the less important reasons for doing so.

I’m setting all comments to go to moderation. If you just want to rant pro or con about the awful situation the US is now in, please do it elsewhere. If you have any actual information about the effects of this on the physics and math communities as the budget process gets underway, that would be worthwhile and interesting. Two people tweeting about this are Kyle Cranmer and Matthew Buckley.

Updates: Details of the DOE HEP budget proposal are here. It explains that about 20-25% of the research positions funded by DOE at all levels would be eliminated. There would be an “extended shutdown of the Fermilab accelerator complex”.
About 1/3 of DOE HEP theory funding would be eliminated, but it would be replaced by an equal amount of funding for quantum information science as a subfield of HEP. Looks like someone in the Trump administration is a great believer in “It From Qubit”…

Update: According to this story, if this budget passes about 700 jobs at Argonne and Fermilab would be eliminated.

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18 Responses to 2018 US HEP Budget

  1. cosmology grad student says:

    I think you’re misreading what quantum information science means in this budget. On p. 180 of the budget document you linked in your update: “Increased funding will support QIS efforts in quantum computing and quantum sensor development.” And the funding category that’s increased is called “Computational HEP.” My guess is that the increase isn’t going to “It from Qubit” (which is funded by Simons not the US government) or anything like it, but more directly to nitty-gritty quantum computing. No doubt quantum info people who work on e.g. AdS/MERA or Bootstrap could try to argue that what they do falls into this category, but I doubt that’s what the people who wrote this line item in the budget had in mind.

  2. Peter Woit says:

    cosmology grad student,
    That side comment was a bit tongue in cheek. I really don’t know what that $14 million is for, and why it’s replacing 1/3 of the HEP theory program. To me quantum information science seems a really different business than HEP, so it’s unclear why it’s being funded out of HEP, but there must be some set of research priorities I don’t know about behind this (beside “It from Qubit”).

  3. Don’t overthink it. Someone likes quantum info research, and likely doesn’t really understand what it is or its relationship to high energy physics beyond the money-is-fungible interrelatedness of all agency programs.

    I agree that this budget request is so out of the norm that we are basically off the edge of the map in terms of trying to figure out what Congress might do. You also left out the fun idea put forward about how to handle the proposed NIH cuts without cutting research dollars: refuse to pay indirect costs at more than 10%. Again, probably DOA in the legislature, but slashing indirect cost payments and having a flat rate rather than individual negotiations with each university likely would have appeal to some in Congress.

  4. Giulio says:

    Cutting the budget so much is certainly bad; but in the particular case of HEP theory, given that most of the money is anyway spent on things you consider “not even wrong”, you should see it as money saved instead of being wasted. Or am I wrong?

  5. piscator says:

    I think slashing university overheads would be an excellent idea. The growth in administrative numbers and salaries is one of the biggest problems with modern universities, and one of the ways they are funded is through the central university slice on grant income. It would be one of the rare ways of saving money and boosting the academic culture of universities simultaneously.

  6. Peter Woit says:

    The amounts going to HEP theory are infinitesimal compared to other things. Most of such funding is not going to multiverse or other studies I think are completely worthless, but to often reasonable research. These days what a lot of HEP theorists are doing is actually working on QFTs with applications to topology or condensed matter.

    There is an issue about some of this funding that I’ve always seen as problematic, independent of the value of the research. At least in the US, spots for HEP theory graduate students are often funded this way, and the huge imbalance between the number of Ph.Ds produced and the number of permanent jobs has led to a horrific job market which I don’t think is good for the field. So, I can’t say that I’m strongly opposed to some cutting of Ph.D. funding in this area (or, in any area where the job market is awful).

    This is completely irrelevant to the current situation, since those pushing these cuts are not interested in targeted cutting to improve things, but in making huge across the board cuts to scientific research in general.

  7. Peter Woit says:

    I think the idea that removing grant money will starve the administrative beast is naive. At a certain large institution I know well and have observed closely over decades, the administration and its salary level has grown dramatically, during a period when overhead rates and grant income haven’t. The way this gets paid for is not grants, but steady increases in tuition levels, radically changing the socioeconomic profile of the student body, making the institution more and more aimed at catering to the children of the wealthy.

    If overhead disappears, of the two alternatives of administrators taking pay cuts/losing their jobs, or larger tuition increases, I know which one I would bet on happening.

  8. Jeff M says:


    Peter is right, this has nothing to do with grants. I work at a state U, we have some grants, but nothing like the level at Columbia where Peter is. We’ve had just as much administrative bloat as Columbia. As far as tuition levels, when I was applying to college, back in the dark ages, full freight at Columbia was about \$7K. It’s \$70K now. Inflation would justify \$25K.

  9. Rob says:

    Do I read correctly on page 188 in the detailed HEP budget proposal that the muon g-2 measurement at Fermilab is dead (if the budget passes). Or is it some type of upgrade/offshoot which is in the firing line ?

  10. Shantanu says:

    Peter, do you have any statistics on how much of DOE HEP theory funding has been invested in string theory?

  11. Peter Woit says:

    It looks to me like the g-2 experiment will soon be taking data, and have a measurement later this year, so this isn’t a cancellation (don’t know if there were plans for future upgrade).


    For a long time now different people would count different things as “string theory”, so I don’t think there’s any sensible number of that sort, at least for the last 10-20 years.

  12. Tom Andersen says:

    I don’t want to sound depressed, but a 50% budget cut to a normal bureaucratic system will result in 100% of actual work being stopped. The bureaucrats always find a way to keep their ‘inner circle machine’ running. One can expect linear behaviour, so a 20% cut means 40% of useful work being halted.

  13. Not that anyone making these budgets asked for my opinion, but on the small chance any of them read these comments: I’m a quantum computing person, who also happens to be a member of the It from Qubit collaboration, and quite interested recently in work at the interface between quantum information and quantum gravity. And I don’t want additional funding for quantum information if it has to come out of already-strained HEP budgets.

    In general, I’m always dismayed when funders see something new and shiny (for example: a scalable quantum computer), and think they can just redirect all their resources to that, without understanding that even supposing it was all they cared about, they’re less likely to get it without a healthy research ecosystem, which in this case means everything from basic physics to math to classical CS. To take a very common instance of that failure mode: you can plunk down a beautiful new interdisciplinary center at a university — but then if you don’t put adequate resources into the basic needs of the individual departments that the center is supposed to be bringing together, great people won’t want to be in those departments, and your center will end up as a gleaming bridge from nowhere to nowhere.

  14. Chris Herzog says:

    “Yes, scientists should be organizing to fight this budget, but the impacts on them and their research are one of the less important reasons for doing so.”

    I wonder if it’s actually one of the more important reasons for doing so. Here in Suffolk County on the eastern end of Long Island, two of the biggest employers are Brookhaven National Labs and Stony Brook University. Science research dollars from the federal government add about 500 million dollars to the local economy. Take that away, and this place becomes a summer retreat for wealthy New Yorkers and (maybe — it’s not so clear) a cheaper place to live for those who work in the city and are willing to deal with a two hour commute each way.

    Universities can serve as a hub for economic development in this new economy that depends so much on service, technology, and creativity. One can make a strong argument that federal research dollars are the seeds from which the local economy grows.

  15. My new relevant blog post, “Defending Science in the Age of Trump.” http://www.314action.org/news/2017/6/9/defending-science-in-the-age-of-trump

  16. Noah Graham says:

    Chris Herzog — I agree that federal research dollars can be seeds for the local economy, but the problem is that the funding system tends to replant those seeds in the same, wealthy areas (e.g. Long Island). If there were more mechanisms to extend research infrastructure into less prosperous areas, both urban and rural, science would enjoy much broader political support (and cost less to carry out, as well).

  17. ronab says:

    “…if this budget passes about 700 jobs at Argonne and Fermilab would be eliminated.”

    Is there a reasonable way to extrapolate as to what this would imply for, eg, job losses at LBL, SLAC, etc.?

  18. Peter Woit says:


    Not that I know of. Even the 700 number is some sort of vague guestimate.

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