Late last week there was a meeting of HEPAP in Washington, presentations available here. Several dealt with the current budget situation, which is basically that the current FY2008 budget is a disaster, and the Bush administration has proposed huge compensatory increases for FY2009. No one seems to have any idea what Congress will do or when, so the future for US government support of HEP is completely unclear not only for the long-term, but even for the next fiscal year, which starts in a few months.
The NSF presentation noted that NSF funding for particle physics theory was down 4% in FY2008, to about $14 million, of which roughly $1.5 million goes to the KITP at Santa Barbara. The critical issues for the NSF particle theory program were listed as:
Need to involve more people in LHC-related physics. Need new hires in phenomenology. Traditional funding sources for students (being TAs) is becoming problematic. (need more funding for students)
You can see why string theorists these days are pushing the idea of “string phenomenology” and claims that somehow string theory is relevant to the LHC.
At the DOE, funding for theoretical particle physics was flat for FY2008, at $60 million, with a proposed 5% increase for FY2009.
There was also an interesting presentation about an on-going project to gather demographic information on the people working in particle physics. I was surprised to see that statistics show significant recent increases at all levels in the numbers of people working in particle physics. From 2003-2007 the number of graduate students went from 1129 to 1335 (making one wonder why the NSF is worried about not supporting enough graduate students…), postdocs and untenured research staff from 1331 to 1406, untenured faculty from 228 to 284, and tenured faculty or staff from 1343 to 1355. In particle theory, the total number of people went from 1292 to 1414, so this increase in numbers was not all in experiment.
Also worth reading is a presentation from Robert Sugar about the present state of Lattice QCD calculations.