Today and yesterday at Fermilab there is an HEPAP meeting designed to gather information necessary to prioritize decisions on how to spend the US HEP budget over the next few years. Many of the talks there are on-line and give a good idea of what future possibilities look like. The main issues being discussed are:

  • Whether to go ahead with project X at Fermilab, a proposal for a high-intensity proton source.
  • The state of the ILC project, given that it was zeroed out in this year’s US and UK budgets. Barry Barish emphasizes the continuing goal of being ready to make a decision about whether to build such a thing soon after LHC results arrive, presumably starting in 2010. The state of CLIC and other multi-TeV lepton collider possibilities is reviewed by Tor Raubenheimer of SLAC, who puts a likely date for a multi-TeV electron collider at 2030-40, a muon collider after 2050. These things are a long ways away…
  • Whether to run the Tevatron in FY 2010, with presentations about how the Tevatron is currently performing, and from CDF and D0 advocating for a run past FY2009. Both experiments make the case that they are getting close to being able to either see evidence of the Higgs or rule out its existence over most of the expected mass range. More about this from Tommaso Dorigo of CDF here. Since the Tevatron is about the most successful and exciting thing going on in US HEP, I personally don’t see the case for planning on shutting it down until solid results are in from the LHC about the Higgs, which should be sometime in FY2010 at the earliest. Who knows, maybe the LHC will see something that the Tevatron is a good tool to study further. Seems more likely than that it will see black holes…
  • The involuntary furloughs of Fermilab employees begin today. No news regarding the supposed efforts by the Illinois Congressional delegation to lobby for a supplemental appropriation to keep Fermilab from having to layoff around 200 people. At least one of the relevant people is undoubtedly too busy with other things to pay attention to this. The Congress and the White House are negotiating an emergency bill to deal with the recession and job losses that have started recently. Since government spending is bad and tax cuts are good, their plan seems to be to continue to throw people out of their jobs with budget cuts in HEP and elsewhere, while handing out cash to as many voters as possible.

    For a presentation by DOE Undersecretary Orbach about the DOE budget problem, see here, and analysis from Richard Jones of the AIP here. The FY 2009 budget request from the White House will come out on Monday, and Orbach promises that

    The President’s request for FY 09 will be wonderful, again, for the physical sciences. While I can’t go into details here, I can say that it will continue the funding request consistent with the American Competitiveness Initiative and the America COMPETES Act. The problem for all of us is that, faced with essentially flat funding for the physical sciences in FY 08, the President’s Request for FY 09 will appear as a very large percentage increase for the three ACI agencies. The danger is that basic research in the physical sciences will again be ‘donors’ to other programs.

    meaning I guess that Congress will be tempted to strip these out in order to fund other things.

    Gordon Watts notices that in Bush’s State of the Union speech he explicitly advocated increased funding for basic physical science research, something which is extremely unusual in such a speech:

    Last year Congress passed legislation supporting the American Competitiveness Initiative, but never followed through with the funding. This funding is essential to keeping our scientific edge. So I ask Congress to double federal support for critical basic research in the physical sciences and ensure America remains the most dynamic nation on earth.

    The physics community seems to have done a great job of convincing the administration to support basic physics research in general and HEP in particular, which normally would be a very good thing. But the same was true last year, and it seems to just have had the effect of painting a big fat bullseye on HEP funding for someone in Congress looking for a place to cut. At least this year people are aware of what might be coming, and maybe something can be done to head off a repeat of this year’s disaster.

    The general budget politics don’t look favorable at all though, with the Bush Administration evidently proposing to heavily cut Medicare and Medicaid spending. Congress has very different priorities, and it seems all too likely that they will fund restoration of the health-care cuts by cutting things like the DOE basic research budget. This fall will be different though, with a new Congress and president elected at the beginning of November, but not taking office until January. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the government run on a continuing resolution at FY2008 levels until after a new president takes office.

    Update: The proposed FY2009 budget is out, DOE here, NSF here. The DOE budget contains a huge increase for HEP, from $688 million in FY2008 to $805 million in FY2009. The NSF budget doesn’t break out the HEP component, but the total budget for math and physics is supposed to go from $1167 million in FY2008 to $1403 million in FY2009. These are huge and very healthy proposed increases, but unfortunately it is not at all clear that they will actually make it into the final budget.

    Update: There’s a story today in the New York Times about this. Also a message from the Fermilab director, saying he has no choice but to go ahead with the plan to start laying off employees of the lab. In practical terms, the proposed budget increases appear to be meaningless, with the likely situation no increase at all in FY2009 of any kind until a budget gets passed, which most likely will not happen until already deep into the fiscal years. He writes:

    …every Washington expert tells me to prepare for a continuing resolution that might last into the new administration. Such a continuing resolution would extend the present difficult budgets well into FY09. At the same time, relief in FY08 in the form of a supplemental appropriation is not guaranteed and is at best several months away.

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    5 Responses to US HEP News

    1. John says:

      I wouldn’t be surprized if HEP funding was cut. Given the current economic woes it’s bound to happen that ‘esoteric’ fields with no direct, immediate consequences should bear the brunt of funding cuts.

    2. Peter Woit says:


      According to new stories today, Bush’s plan is to blow out the FY2009 budget with a $400 billion or so deficit, leaving the mess of dealing with that to the next president. He probably doesn’t have any choice about this if he wants to finance the war in Iraq at a high level and avoid a recession by stimulus spending at home. The Democrats seem to lack any serious interest in stopping the war by refusing to pay for it, and they too like to give cash payments to voters, so it looks like $400 billion or so will be the size of the deficit (larger if there’s a recession).

      A healthy budget increase for HEP would be about one-tenth of one-percent of the planned deficit spending, lost in the rounding errors of the things like Medicare spending that the Congress and the White House will fight over. Supposedly, this week Bush will announce the details of the proposed budget and it will include a healthy increase for HEP, we’ll know the details soon. Unclear what the Congress will do, we may not know until nearly a year from now, far into the fiscal year. What a way to run a country….

    3. J.F. says:

      In the category of “bigger fish to fry”, note that Senator Durbin has serious egg on his face on the abrupt cancellation of the FutureGen coal plant by DOE, AFTER a siting decision was made for IL and against the TX sites. One can only wonder if his eye was on the wrong ball back in December, or even if he got deliberately played by the administration (e.g. FutureGen was never coming to IL, and he should have been fighting for Fermi and other things).

      I don’t think the state of the union bit helps at all. Even when Bush was more popular and not a lame duck, all the “lets go to mars” rhetoric did was reprioritize NASA money, and DOE is far more compartmentalized, so even if we wanted other science and tech to suffer for HEP it won’t happen.

    4. Gordon Watts says:

      But we don’t want other science and tech to suffer for HEP! That attitude, btw, is exactly the best way to get science funding and HEP shot in the foot.

      One thing about this budget. If this works out as the last one has — will Bush even be in office? And will the politics be such a mess they just decide to do a continuing resolution for the full year — as they did previously?

      At anyrate, the horse trading that involves HEP and science in general comes at the very end — as Peter points out the amounts are so small compared to the elephants roving the room. This is why we were all blind-sided.

      Finally, don’t make the mistake of thinking that only HEP got it last time. Several branches got it (NIST, ITER, for example). It should be on every scientists mind: how to increase funding for all sorts of science in the USA, not just their particular branch. I’d really love to see general increases and then the peer review system or experts figure out how to allocate it. Maybe we could stop talking about man on mars then…

    5. J.F. says:

      Gordon: I agree completely regarding priorities, I mentioned it as an absurd extreme but was not clear.

      As an interesting sidenote, Bill Foster, formerly of Fermilab and running in that district, apparently won his primary tonight. His competition in the March special election is a perennial candidate who has never won office and is not liked by the state party, so there is a significant chance Foster will be in congress soon. Personally I think it is obvious that Fermi got cut a month after Hastert resigned precisely because they had no seat at the table to defend them.

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