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:
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.