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. Roger says:

    I recently heard some possible good news for our field. Someone said that the Germans had increased their particle physics expenditure. Can any Germans confirm this ?

    Peter, I hope you don’t view this as off-topic. The UK and US decisions have been body blows to the whole community. It would be interesting to discuss worldwide particle physics funding here.

  2. Anti-insurgent says:

    “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 …”

    War gets more media attention because it makes human interest stories: tens of thousands lose friends and relatives. This is what politicians really respond to. So if these particle accelerator physicists really want decent funding, they should produce military versions: massive particle ray guns to fight satellites, missiles and aircraft. It’s a pity that modern physicists aren’t so interested now in combining particle research and warfare. Back in the good old days when Feynman, Oppenheimer, Teller, Fermi, Lawrence et al. worked on the Manhattan Project, they got two billion for research (in 1945 dollars, uncorrected for inflation) just for delivering two small bombs.

  3. Hans says:

    Roger wrote:
    I recently heard some possible good news for our field. Someone said that the Germans had increased their particle physics expenditure. Can any Germans confirm this ?

    I would not be too optimisitc. Some of it may be only du to needed phenomenological research with LHC data. In fact the increased budget with some projects in High energy physics came somewhat “accidentially”.

    In germany, research is founded by governments of each of the federal states and the federal government, with the states founding their universities, and the government founding the Max-Planck institutes and the DFG, a society similarly to NSF in US.

    Recently there was an initiative, that the government will spend additional money to some of their universities, which have won in a competition after being evaluated by a DFG comission.

    And accidentially, most of the physics projects that were positively evaluated, were High Energy Physics projects.
    Obviously, this has something to do with the large experimental facillities at CERN and elsewhere, with which these projects collaborate.

    That is: To fund high energy projects was not planned by german government at all. Unfortunately, most of it is experimental research (almost no theory project survived the competition at DFG), and even this experimental HEP research is funded only due to the fact that the politicians agreed to spend their money on exactly those projects, the people of DFG told them to do so. Funding HEP was not, what the politicians had in mind.

    Instead, recently, german government decided, not to build ILC anywhere in germany. Unnamed officials in the ministry tell, that the future of HEP funding strongly depends on LHC, with government definitely not wanting to fund any large accelerator projects at a stage where one does not know what LHC will see.

  4. woit says:


    NOvA is Fermilab’s main next-generation neutrino experiment, looking for muon to electron neutrino oscillations, trying to measure a non-zero value for the mixing angle theta_13. The project involves upgrading some of the Fermilab accelerator facilities, and constructing a near detector on-site, and a far detector in Minnesota.

    Shutting this down and shutting down ILC R and D pretty much shuts down any investment in the future of Fermilab for the remainder of FY 2008.

  5. wb says:

    To make the ILC picture darker, the UK has stopped ILC related funding this year.

  6. Bee says:

    Hans: That is: To fund high energy projects was not planned by german government at all. Unfortunately, most of it is experimental research (almost no theory project survived the competition at DFG), and even this experimental HEP research is funded only due to the fact that the politicians agreed to spend their money on exactly those projects, the people of DFG told them to do so. Funding HEP was not, what the politicians had in mind.
    They had in mind to fund the best and most promising research, for which they rely on expert’s advice. That’s the sensible thing to do. One can discuss whether it’s good to do this via the DFG and what to think of their refereeing system, but I think it works pretty well. The problem with the German physicists is the dominace by not yet quite dead nuclear physicists for whom ‘high energy’ is somewhere around 10 GeV.

    The US budget disaster just reflects the fact that this democracy is a farce. I’d like to see a poll on the question whether to blow up billions of dollars in funding actual or potential wars and loosing researchers to the North, East and West, or whether to assure technological and intellectual expertise in the own country does at least remain at last century’s status (I won’t even aim at improving it). If it goes on like this, I see the Europe -> US brain drain reversing. I can’t avoid thinking of George Orwell’s 1984 scenario with the country that engages in permanent war, things get constantly worse, but they report all the time great improvements. I’d recomment setting up the Ministry of Truth.



  7. Yatima says:

    But that’s only 100 million short, a third of the price of a single completely useless F-22 Raptor!

    Anyway, (and I’m sorry to say so) if the letting go of something like Dennis “The Menace” Hastert is considered “a problem”, then it’s not only String Theory that needs to get back in touch with Base Reality. Choose your friends with care.

  8. JoAnne says:

    Recall that there are three national laboratories in the Bay Area near Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco district.

  9. Peter Woit says:


    Good point. I fear this is a bi-partisan screw-up. Any idea why HEP got whacked so much worse than other sciences in this last minute round of budget cutting? What are the implications for SLAC of this (so far most of the coverage has concentrated on Fermilab)?

  10. Hans says:

    Bee wrote:
    The problem with the German physicists is the dominace by not yet quite dead nuclear physicists for whom ‘high energy’ is somewhere around 10 GeV.

    I see it more that solid state physicists are a problem.
    They often are making campaigns against allmost all ground based research. They can argue to the politicians that their science may lead into industrial products. And so, nanoscience, solid state physics and so on, receive a great more amount of money than mathematical physics or phaenomenology(at least in germany).

    For example, Munich has, with its two universities and five Max-Planck Institutes one of the largest hep groups in the world.

    And even there, the chancellor of the Ludwigs Maximillians University, Huber had circulated a document, in which High Energy physics was defined as an area to withdraw in future.

    There had letters to be written from international persons to make Huber give up this plan.
    It seems that there were a large amount of condensed matter physicists in the advisory board of the chancellor.

    I know of another group where condensed matter physicists were even sucessfull in knocking down two professorships in the area of quantum gravity. The professorships of Heinz Dehnen, and Audretsch in Konstanz was a general relativity group. But the majority of condensed matter physicists decided, to cancel this professorships after the two men retired.

    It seems that Germany has only 5 chairs devotet to relativistic physics (stringtheorists and particle theorists excluded, one at Jena, Kologne Freiburg, Tübingen and Munich).
    It is known to the author that a majority of solid state physicists sometimes boycotted relativists, which wanted to hold conferences at the german physical society.

    (and regarding your Quantum gravity group in Frankfurt: When a decision is made about a new research group at a university, DFG often has physicists of other areas in the decision comittes. When it is to decide about an area, where there are not many experts in Germany, those physicists from other areas have the majority. And then you might think what they decide……)

  11. wb says:

    SLAC gets hits moderately because it has had a fairly decent sized ILC program. Fortunately for the laboratory its prime program, LCLS, was fully funded. Besides citing Pelosi, Dick Durbin doesn’t seem to have done much to defend Fermilab. So I’d call it a bi-partisan screwing – the cuts seem to have been deliberately placed not a mistake.

  12. JoAnne says:


    I echo wb above, the language in the bill indicates that the cuts are deliberately placed. I have no idea why, except that the large international science projects ITER and ILC obviously didn’t fare well.

    As for SLAC, most of the lab itself is now supported by the Basic Energy Sciences division of the DOE. However, the particle physics and astrophysics division of SLAC is supported directly by the HEP division of DOE and will be severely hurt. We are (or should I say were) the major US player in the R&D effort for the ILC and there is no way we can now support that. In addition, we have (had) a sizeable effort on an ILC detector. Any ideas on saving money are very draconian. Just like Fermilab, folks are talking about shutting off the B-Factory or having “scrooge days or weeks” where people work without getting paid or layoffs. Little things like no travel money or new computer equipment for the rest of the year and a hiring freeze will be implemented, but will not be nearly enough.

  13. wb says:

    One theory I have heard about the reason for these targeted cuts was that ILC and ITER had received explicit White House backing. So these cuts would embarrass the Administration. That rationale does not explain zeroing Nova. Perhaps that choice was due to a staffer doing his/her homework and finding such physics as the lowest priority in EPP2010.

    A difficulty that the lab directors face in trying to react is the money is not fungible and the cuts target people in specific organizations within the laboratory. It is hard to imagine that layoffs are not in order. If you expect this to be a one-time phenomenon, then you tighten the belt a lot and tough it out. But we have no reason to believe that science will fare better in the next budget – and as 2008 is an election year, the legislative season is shortened. Hence a continuing resolution or another Omnibus Bill is likely.

    Perhaps a unified push by the presidents of major universities joined by CEOs from major hi-tech industries would help rescue the long range future of science in America.

  14. LDM says:

    In the US democracy one has the freedom to become politically active and change things if one is not happy with the government policies. One also has the freedom to openly express dissent.

    Contrast this with Russia – also a democracy – where just this month the opposition leader, Gary Kasparov, was jailed for 5 days for attempting to hold a rally in opposition to Putin. Regarding the ‘ministry of truth’, there was no mention of the arrest on the Russian state controlled TV. And the Russian elections were totally falsified – which was made possible by the failure of Russia to grant international observers the needed visas so they could monitor the elections.
    The US democracy, while not perfect, is still the best available, and taking 8.5 percent of the HEP budget to support our troops is a sacrifice we should be willing to make, if indeed that is where the 8.5 percent is being allocated. I would suggest that such a sacrifice is nothing compared to that being made by our troops.
    Being an excellent physicist (or mathematician as the case may be) does not imply one is also politically astute. Oppenheimer comes to mind as the canonical example.

  15. Peter Woit says:

    LDM and others,

    If you have an intelligent comment about the HEP budget situation, please post it here. If you want to rant about the Russians, or otherwise engage in predictable political polemics, do this on one of the 1000 blogs out there devoted to this, not here.

  16. IMHO says:

    To inject a little clear-eyed realism into the conversation.

    Why haven’t you people been expecting this….I have. Why do you think HEP is first to the slaughter? It’s because HEP has the lowest (cost to benefit-to-society) ratio of all the sciences. HEP has completely and utterly lost touch with the real world. These days it seems more and more like mental masturbation at it’s finest.

    Can we have hundreds of millions of dollars to study phenomenon with absolutely no societal or economic benefit what-so-ever…???

    Welfare is never popular.

  17. Bee says:

    Hans: I agree, the nuclear guys aren’t the only problem. In general I find Germany has been much too conservative. I think though the DFG is doing a good job, at least as good as they can, and from the little that I notice over here, things are slowly getting better in Germany. The biggest problem they face though is one that the DFG can’t solve, the missing tenure process, the habilitation, and the ‘Berufsbeamtentum’ (I guess you’re German so you know what I mean). A correction: There never was a QG group in Frankfurt, and unless a miracle happens I don’t think there will be one in the soon future. There was, long time ago, a Quantum Gravity seminar, but that was ironically offered by the maths department. All we tried was physics beyond the standard model, and despite the large interest among the students and postdocs, and support from the faculty, we didn’t get funding. Maybe we’d have better chances today. Best,


  18. Tom says:


    Either you are a non-science oriented person or have lost touch with the fundamentals of technological progress. Society progresses technologically by first understanding nature, then understanding how to manipulate nature, and finally understanding how to do this in a way that everyone can benefit. Case in point Quantum Mechanics. At the time, nobody thought it would turn into anything of use. Niels Bohr himself thought it couldn’t possibly be of benefit because nothing of use could come of something so small. 50 years later the transistor is invented, and 50 years after the computer is without a doubt one of the most essential parts of our existence. This process has been the same through our entire existence. Maxwell’s equations into RF electronics, Kinematics/Static science into the design of anything mechanical. Thermodynamics and statistical mechanics into modern chemical engineering. We first understand nature, we then learn to manipulate it. Calling the first step unessential is claiming you don’t need to mine gold to make a gold ring.

  19. Peter Woit says:

    Please, this is not a blog entry about whether particle physics is a worthwhile subject that deserves public support. If you want to argue about that, do it elsewhere.

  20. Tom says:

    Peter, it seems to me a blog entry on the HEP budget is the perfect place to argue whether the public should support or not support such efforts, but as it is your blog……

    I will comment that I believe this is the very reason we are in trouble. We choose not to address those questions in a way that the public values the research.

  21. Peter Woit says:


    Since this is a blog aimed at people with a serious interest in particle physics, the problem is that arguments about why it is a worthwhile subject will be preaching to the choir. If people want to put their energy into changing the minds of those who know nothing about this subject or are dubious of its value, that’s great, but the right audience isn’t here.

    I don’t actually think the problem is with the public not supporting this kind of research, which I think they support as much if not more than most scientific research, to the extent they care at all. The problem is that, at the last moment, some small number of people without any public discussion (or even private discussion with prominent scientists, as far as I know) made the decision to make US HEP research bear the brunt of this year’s budget cuts. I’m curious to know why that happened, and what the implications are for the future.

  22. milkshake says:

    Hubble telescope was going to be “left for dead” by NASA at one point – and astronomy at least produces pretty pictures…

    Arecibo was “de-funded” too, if I remeber correctly.

  23. wb says:


    I think one should dissect the HEP cut even further. Almost all of the cut is in that portion of the HEP budget that was a foundation for Fermilab’s future. Where can Project X go without superconducting rf development? How does Fermilab gain traction into a neutrino future with Nova zeroed? As for ILC, this cut seems to render that possibility comatose until either Japan or China steps up to the plate.

    So I’d ask where was the Illinois delegation. Why did Sen. Durbin give a cold shoulder to pleas for help. So I’d like to understand why this shot directly amidships to the flagship of American high energy physics. Who had it in for Fermilab? There certainly was money that could have gone to HEP out of the $125 M of earmarks -pork – that was inserted into the Office of Science budget.

  24. Tom says:


    The comment I was replying to is evidence that we are not “preaching to the choir”. I think you underestimate the diversity of your audience. I also see great value in educating the lay with the correct arguments for basic science research. With this said, I really don’t want to argue whether or not we should be discussing whether or not to fund basic science. So please continue to sleuth out the reasons the HEP budget took such a nasty hit. If you are able to derive the inner workings of how federal budget decisions are made, you should probably publish the work. Maybe even a book – you could recycle the same title as your last work.

  25. Sam says:


    Here’s my take.

    If the elected representatives of the American people want to decide not to do High Energy Physics, they clearly have the right to make that decision. If that is their intention, they should come out and say so. The budget as passed scraps the NOvA project (Fermilab’s short-term upgrade project, to come online after the Tevatron is superceded by CERN’s LHC.) NOvA is a stepping-stone on the way to Project X (the lab’s medium-term upgrade plan, currently in the early planning stages). The budget also eliminates any further spending this fiscal year on the ILC (Fermilab’s long-term plan). In short, it eliminates all spending on the future of accelerator physics in the US. The statement it makes looks rather like “carry on operating your current program, and go away and quietly die in 2010”.

    The reports talk about 200 people losing their jobs, but layoffs don’t actually save you any money in the current fiscal year (as you have to pay termination and unemployment benefits). The only way to save significant amounts of money is to turn off the accelerators and send everyone home without pay for a month or so. You can do that.

    Many of those people will find other jobs, rather than sitting around doing nothing for a month. The people who find it easiest to get interesting new work are going to be the employees that were most useful. They’ll provide your 200 job cuts, but it’ll be the 200 people you could least afford to lose. It might not quite be a death blow, but it’ll be very close.

    Does Congress really want to destroy the US High Energy Physics program to save $60 million? Maybe it does, and maybe it doesn’t, but that’s what it’s done.

    If that’s really what Congress wants, it should come out and say “sorry, we’re not going to be doing this any more” and then everyone knows where they stand. A few months ago (COMPETES etc.), they seemed quite keen on doing this kind of thing, so maybe it was more a case of a budget-crunch screwup that didn’t understand the full implications of the cuts.

  26. Chris W. says:

    Arbitrary cuts with little regard for “functioning/crippled” thresholds is sort of business as usual for Congress and the current administration, isn’t it? I think the attitude is basically “whatever; after a while they’ll stop whining and figure it out.” Even in the conduct of the Iraq War a lot of things have been approached as “throw ’em in the deep end of the pool and let ’em figure out how to swim.”

    You may also recall tax-cut activist Grover Norquist‘s declared ambition to reduce the size of the federal government (and its programs) to the point where “they can be drowned in a bathtub”.

    Then again, I suppose one should remember the old saying, “never ascribe to malevolence that which can be explained by incompetence”—passing 3,000 page bills that nobody has actually read.

    (The late hour must be exacerbating my cynicism—sorry.)

  27. wb says:


    I completely agree with your comments. COMPETES was passed and signed into law; the mark-ups in the Energy and Water Appropriations bill were very supportive. So what changed? In the Omnibus Bill HEP gets to compete with rural hospitals for money, but other Office of Science programs have the same competition. Yes, it is the perogative of Congress to decide what to fund and what not to fund. It is our right to ask why. I just don’t buy the inadvertent “screw-up” theory. As you say, “hey should come out and say so.”

  28. Chris Austin says:

    As a British physicist who might be indirectly affected by these cuts, (via reduced likelihood of another US visit), I would like to suggest that these cuts might be because the US government has identified that the ILC isn’t expected to make fundamental discoveries in the same way as the LHC is. In other words, this might be a wake-up call, with the government saying, “You’ve got to do better.” I understand that the financial situation will be difficult for everyone, but since the appropriate direction for HEP to make further fundamental discoveries after the LHC depends so completely on what is found at the LHC, perhaps it would be good for the next three or four years to focus on maximizing the return from the LHC and drawing the implications from its results, which is sure to be quite difficult.

    Best regards,

  29. Steve Demuth says:

    I will respect Peter’s request that we not use this as a forum to debate the value of HEP funding, but I do want to say that I disagree with that judgment. I am not a professional physicist, but I do follow physics closely, and I doubt I am the only such person who reads this blog. I would welcome a discussion about the cuts that focused on why they are justified or not.

    And … depending on the case made, the results of such a debate could well be a letter from me to my representatives opposing – or endorsing – the cuts.

  30. Peter Woit says:

    Steve (and others whose comments I’ve deleted and will continue to delete),

    What I write here about experimental particle physics and its funding is intended to provide useful and accurate information to people interested in what is happening in this area. I attempt to do so with a minimum of editorializing. This particular event is an extreme case, in the size and timing of the budget cut, and the lack of transparency in how it was arrived at. I hope that you’ll take advantage of what this blog does provide, accurate information, in reaching your own decisions about what you think the federal government’s spending priorities should be. I hope you’ll also realize that there is some advantage to not having to wade through large numbers of comments from people discussing their feelings about government spending, swamping actual information about what has just happened.

    On this blog I’d like as much as possible to make this deal with my readers: I’ll do my best to spare you my blathering about political issues, please spare me yours. If you want to find a blog where political debate on scientific issues is encouraged, there are other places to go, Cosmic Variance is a pretty good one.

  31. Michael Bacon says:

    “The press release also criticizes the Congressional decision to preserve and expand earmarks while cutting other programs.”

    Actually, earmarks declined from the prior budget somewhere between 25% and 43%, depending on who you want to believe. Obviously, still too high, although it’s hard to imagine members of Congress completely eliminating this type of special funding for their districts.

    The real problem is lack of understanding and leadership in Congress and the White House and a broad swath of the population that not only doesn’t understand what’s at stake, but that doesn’t even think about it.

  32. Peter Woit says:


    I’d be curious to know a source for solid numbers about this. A little research on the net turns up the claim that there were essentially no earmarks in the FY 2007 DOE budget, but that this year’s final budget language includes

    “Funding under this heading in the amended bill includes $125,633,000 for Congressionally Directed Projects.”

    At the FNAL all-hands meeting, someone who was not very happy about it brought up the claims by Illinois senator Durbin from his web-site that he was responsible for $448 million in earmarks for Illinois projects. I think the implication was that his focus on bringing in earmarks, in an environment where more earmarks meant bigger budget cuts for labs like FNAL, was part of the problem.

  33. MathPhys says:

    Best wishes on the festive season, Peter, and thank you very much for a very informative blog.

  34. Michael Bacon says:


    Yesterday evening on The News Hour with Jim Lehrer on PBS they had an in-depth piece on the new budget. The numbers I quoted came from the two non-partisan analysts who were interviewed at length and who agreed that earmarks had declined, but disagreed about how much. I believe that I remembered them correctly. The analysts were, however, talking about the overall budget and not the DOE budget. I agree that earmarks always reduce the amounts available for other projects and I certainly wasn’t trying to say that it isn’t a problem, only that the number and total dollar amount declined over the prior overall federal budget. I still think that’s the case, but since I’m relying on others on this point, I could certainly be wrong.

  35. Michael Bacon says:


    Here is a link to the transcript of the program.


    My memory was slightly off on the percentages. According to the two analysts, the decline was either 25% or 40%. It isn’t clear what accounts for the difference, but it may be whether you’re looking at the total dollar amount of the number or earmarks.

  36. Pingback: Some consequences of the 2008 budget cut « A Quantum Diaries Survivor

  37. wb says:

    The ILC detector collaboration just sent around the following message:

    “Chip Zukoski, UIUC’s Vice Chancellor for Research, just got very good news from April Burke, of Lewis-Burke Associates. (They do federal relations consulting for UIUC and are active in HEP advocacy.) As I understand it, Senator Durbin now appreciates the enormity of the spending bill’s negative impact and has instructed Fermilab to cancel the layoffs that were being discussed, Senator Durbin will work to restore (some of the?) funding to HEP once Congress begins its next session after the New Year.”
    … “Senator Durbin has responded to concerns regarding the cuts to High Energy Physics funding by contacting Secretary Bodman. Senator Durbin made a commitment to work to prevent layoffs at Fermilab. At this time there are no details as to whether complete funding will be restored, including the project funding for NoVA and ILC. However, efforts are underway by Senator Durbin look for a solution to funding shortfalls at Fermilab and for HEP.”

    So let’s hold our breath and watch for the next episode.

  38. wb says:

    Further news on this front:


    In light of recent funding cuts, Illinois members will meet to discuss strategy

    WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Barack Obama (D-IL) and Representative Judy Biggert (R-IL) today sent the following letter to Jim Nussle, Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), calling on him to increase next year’s funding for the High Energy Physics (HEP) program, which supports research at Fermilab in Illinois, and at several other laboratories and universities across the nation that are doing vital, cutting edge research.

    Durbin, Obama, and Biggert are in discussions with Congressional appropriations and authorization committees and the Department of Energy to address the current funding situation and avoid potential layoffs during fiscal year 2008. They also plan to call for an Illinois delegation meeting in January with representatives from Illinois labs and organizations to discuss a strategy to avoid potential job loss at Fermilab. The spending bill, approved by Congress this week, provided the HEP program with $88 million less than was requested. This challenges Fermilab’s ability to remain one of the world’s preeminent research facilities after it has achieved outstanding success in research on neutrinos, the high energy frontier, and particle astrophysics.

    Adequate funding for the labs is critical to ensure that our country maintains its technological edge and that we continue to add to our high-tech manufacturing base. Fermilab is the nation’s premier high-energy physics laboratory. The laboratory leads U.S. research into the fundamental nature of matter and energy, and in 2007, Fermilab’s researchers and facilities achieved results judged by the American Institute of Physics as among the Ten Top Physics Stories from around the world.

    [text of the letter is below]

    Dear Director Nussle:

    We are writing to you concerning a matter of critical importance to our country, to science in America, and to our global competitiveness. As you continue to develop the President’s Budget for Fiscal Year 2009, we respectfully request that you increase funding for the High Energy Physics (HEP) program in the Office of Science at the Department of Energy.

    As you know, the budget approved this week by Congress dealt a severe blow to HEP, which received $88 million less than requested. This budget rejected funding for the NOvA neutrino experiment at Fermilab, and drastically cut funding for research and development on the International Linear Collider. These cuts could cripple Fermilab’s ability to remain one of the world’s preeminent research facilities. And this is at a time when Fermilab has achieved outstanding success, with significant results in each of its central areas of research: neutrinos, the high energy frontier, and particle astrophysics.

    The facilities at Fermilab are essential for the basic scientific research that nurtures technological and scientific advances, and that fuels American innovation. Fermilab is one of a handful of our nation’s premier training sites for scientists, and a centerpiece of the system of DOE National Laboratories. Disruptive funding shortfalls have ripple effects throughout the American scientific community, displacing today’s scientists and discouraging tomorrow’s. We must work together to restore funding in basic physics research to maintain America’s role as the innovator in technology, to retain our leading scientific institutions and their skilled workforces, and to provide opportunities for future scientists.

    While we recognize the formidable challenges you face regarding the demands on the federal budget, we respectfully encourage you to increase the funding request for the Office of Science, particularly for the HEP program, in the President’s FY2009 Budget.

    Barack Obama
    Richard J. Durbin
    Judy Biggert

  39. Peter Woit says:

    Thanks wb,

    I had just seen the press release and was adding a link to it. Looks to me like Durbin and Biggert have realized they screwed up and may lose votes from their constituents over this. Obama presumably is planning on no longer being a senator representing the Fermilab area after the next election.

    The fact that the press release mentions neither an amount of increase nor which base seems rather peculiar.

    The ILC detector collaboration message is also unclear. That Durbin “has instructed Fermilab to cancel the layoffs” makes no sense since he has no power to do this. Unless he plans to pay 200 salaries out of his pocket, he has to first find a way to get new funding for Fermilab from somewhere, or find a way for the DOE to get around the language in the bill he just signed.

  40. Peter Woit says:

    By the way all US readers who would like to see something done about this, in case this isn’t obvious, now (or after you finish your holiday shopping…) might be a really good time to write to your congressional representatives. Obama might also be someone to write to even if you don’t live in Illinois, since he’s looking for your vote too.

  41. Peter Woit says:


    Here are some numbers from the AAAS about earmarking in R and D spending. Looks like it had gotten really bad in FY2006, was eliminated in FY 2007, is now back, at pre FY2006 levels.

    The rest of the AAAS budget analysis is here


    It describes the decisions about cuts as being made “in a frenzy of weekend work” last weekend, with the results only known on Monday morning, passed into law 72 hours later. Not exactly a carefully deliberated process…

  42. Michael Bacon says:

    “Not exactly a carefully deliberated process…”

    What do they say? You don’t want to watch either sausage and law being made.

    I hope the general trend will be for lower levels of earmarks for the next several years — they really climbed over the past decade or so.

  43. wb says:


    What is disturbing and unfortunately not surprising is how unsymapathetic the Illinois delegation was before Director Oddone put a number on the impact in term politicians understand 200 hundred layoffs + ~10% salary reductions in a Republican district that the Democrats have a chance of taking with Fermilab the largest (or at least one of the largest employers). But once a voter impact is revealed the response was swift.

    Had the cut to the HEP budget been much more diffuse would we have gotten the same response? Anyone for a little cynicism here?

    Let’s wait to see if “concern” can be transformed into cash.

  44. Coin says:

    looks like Obama couldn’t be bothered to put it up

    As of right now I’m finding it on his Senate site as the third entry on his press releases list, and a link to a Chicago Sun-Times article on the subject is currently the top entry in his “News” section, both clearly visible from the site’s front page even if they’re not the very most prominent thing on the page.

    (That is, of course, just his Senate site. He does not mention anything on his Presidential campaign site that I can find, so perhaps one could levy the criticism that he’s not using the full extent of his ability to public awareness here.)

  45. Roger says:

    Slightly off topic.

    If any Brits (including expats) wish to protest the UK governments recent cuts and urge a restoration of the lost money then there is an online 10 Downing Street petition they can sign.


    So far its attracted more than 8000 signatures.

  46. J.F. Moore says:

    @wb:Had the cut to the HEP budget been much more diffuse would we have gotten the same response? Anyone for a little cynicism here?

    The cynicism is warranted, and experimentally verified, as such cuts frequently occur across the rest of DOE, and generally the complaining stays within the community. The funding trend with BES at least is to concentrate dollars in large, visible user facilities because they find these easier to pitch to DOE, congress, and review committees consisting mainly of university scholars. The money for facilities comes largely by defunding smaller programs. The endpoint of this is that the BES culture will become much more like that of HEP, with large, facility-driven science and a diaspora of participants.

    On a different subject I’ll note that neither Durbin or Biggert are in remote danger of losing their seat next year. Sometimes politicians just won’t push for something if they don’t know how to make the argument, or that they need to step up and do it. That normally would have been Hastert’s job, and they just got blindsided. Hopefully it can be fixed with a supplemental.

  47. Peter,

    I can’t believe you said that it got little press or mention in the blogs! I think the situation is quite the opposite. Even NY Times got the article about that…

    BTW, we were told during DOE site visit last week that that the situation at DOE is so bad that they are even considering shutting down either BaBar or Tevatron next year… hope that does not happen…

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