The disastrous US HEP budget cuts that were announced just before Christmas, a quarter of the way into the fiscal year, have been getting a lot more attention from bloggers now that the holiday season is over, and their implications are starting to become clear. There are new blog posts from HEP bloggers Tommaso Dorigo, Alexey Petrov, Gordon Watts, and Michael Schmitt (as well as non-HEP blogger Chad Orzel).
It seems to me that Gordon Watts has it about right, entitling his posting “Screwed by the Democrats”. As far as I can tell, very few people know who it was that made the last-minute decision to hit HEP with these huge budget cuts targeted at its future programs or what their justification for this was. Presumably this was done by certain staff members of the heads of the relevant Congressional committees. Gordon explains how all the evidence points to physics getting cut precisely because the relevant parts of the executive branch had made it a priority in their proposed budget. When the Democrats lost the game of chicken that they and the White House were playing with the budget, and had to find some way to make cuts at the last minute, things that were an administration priority were first in line to get cut. So, HEP lost out here not because it has done a bad job at making its case, but because it did too good a job….
One reason that these large cuts had to be made was the decision by the Congressional leadership not to do what they had done last year, which was to cut all earmarks from the DOE budget. A new AAAS analysis concludes that the new budget contains $4.5 billion in R and D earmarks, and that the DOE and Department of Agriculture were the most heavily earmarked R and D agencies.
Some bloggers have suggested that physicists need to redouble their efforts in public education about HEP, but I think Gordon is a bit closer to the right idea, as he has sent $250 as a campaign contribution to Bill Foster, a Fermilab physicist who is running for Congress. Probably even more effective would be if the APS would put out a web-page explaining exactly which of our Congressional representatives were responsible for deciding to hit HEP with these cuts. If they would do that we could then all write to these people saying that we appreciate their public service and include a large check for a campaign contribution, at the same time mentioning that HEP funding happens to be a big personal concern. This seems to be how US democracy works these days: you need to pay to not get screwed, and we haven’t been paying…
As for what the effects of these cuts are, there’s more news coverage here, here, here, here, and here (Fermilab has a web-page of links here). Here is the text of SLAC director Persis Drell’s talk at an All Hands meeting there. The effect of the cuts on SLAC will include having to lay-off 125 people and shut down the B-factory at the beginning of March. Layoffs will be announced in early February, with people leaving their jobs in early April. Senator Durbin of Illinois is talking about an effort to add money for Fermilab to the Iraq War “emergency funding” bill the Senate will be taking up this spring, but says “It won’t be a huge amount… I don’t want to suggest to anyone we will make them whole.” It’s unclear whether this is a realistic possibility, or just Durbin trying to look like he is doing something about this.