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House FY 2012 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill: DOE Office of Science

Richard M. Jones
Number 73 - June 17, 2011  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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On Wednesday the full House Appropriations Committee approved, on a largely party line basis, its version of an FY 2012 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill.  This bill provides funding for the Department of Energy, the Army Corps of Engineers, and several independent agencies.

Total funding in this bill- $30.6 billion - is close to that of the FY 2005 legislation.  The bill’s price tag is down 3.3 percent, or more than $1 billion, from this year’s figure, and is approximately 19 percent less than that requested by the Obama Administration.  Funding for the Office of Science would be reduced by 0.9 percent under this bill.

There is very extensive language in the committee report accompanying this bill related to the Department of Energy’s Office of Science.  That language – many provisions of which are quite important- is below, along with the committee’s recommended funding levels for the Office of Science and its various programs.  Note that paragraph breaks and [headings] have been inserted in some instances, and that this FYI is unusually long. 

The bill recommends the following changes in program budgets from this year:

  • Fusion Energy Sciences: Up 8.1 percent
  • Nuclear Physics: Up 2.2 percent
  • Advanced Scientific Computing: Up 1.2 percent
  • Basic Energy Sciences: Up 0.6 percent
  • High Energy Physics: Up 0.2 percent
  • Biological and Environmental Research: Down 10.6 percent

In the introductory section of the report, under “Supporting American Competitiveness,” the committee provides insight into its funding approach for DOE research:

“The Department of Energy hosts research and development in its laboratories, supports innovation by academia and industry, and provides market incentives to promote clean energy and energy independence. The President, in his State of the Union speech, emphasized the importance of continued work on clean energy technology research and development for American competitiveness.  The Committee strongly agrees.

“However, the Committee was concerned to see very little in the President’s request to justify nearly $2 billion in increased funding to support the President’s pledges. Simply increasing funding for a worthy objective does not in itself constitute a success. Instead of such massive, unjustified increases, the Committee’s recommendation includes funding for inherently governmental functions, such as basic science, and highly-leveraged, limited government involvement in the marketplace. Appropriations are focused on long-term research and early-stage development, and high-risk, high-reward programs, areas which have the potential to bring great benefits to society, but in which the private sector finds little incentive to invest. 

“Additionally, the recommendation reduces funding for large research and development accounts with little, if any, track-record of rewarding achievement and terminating failures. Instead, funding is redirected to more accountable projects and programs.”

Also in the introduction, in a section entitled “Project and Program Management,” the appropriators state:

“Within the Office of Science, the Committee has little insight into the success or failure of billions of dollars in basic science grants, a deficit of information which this report begins to address.  The Committee will continue to work with the Department, and with outside entities that can provide additional perspective, to improve management and oversight.”

Office of Science

The FY 2011 appropriation was $4,842.7 million
The FY 2012 Administration request was 5,416.1 million
The House Appropriations Committee recommends $4,800.0 million, a decrease of  0.9 percent or $42.7 million as compared to the current budget

In addition to a general description of the research supported by the Office of Science, and its overall funding recommendations, the report states:

“Understanding that harnessing scientific and technological ingenuity has long been at the core of the nation’s prosperity, the Department has programs designed to increase the number of underrepresented minorities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) areas. The Committee encourages the Department to maintain this commitment by engaging in competitions supporting programs that increase the number of underrepresented college minorities in STEM fields. The Secretary of Energy shall submit a report to the Congress concurrent with the fiscal year 2013 budget request evaluating the effectiveness of this initiative.”

Advanced Scientific Computing

The FY 2011 appropriation was $422.0 million
The FY 2012 Administration request was $465.6 million
The House Appropriations Committee recommends $427.1 million, an increase of 1.2 percent or $5.1 million as compared to the current budget

The report language notes “The Committee continues to support science activities in the United States that improve and develop the world’s fastest supercomputing systems,” and later states “As both the Office of Science and the National Nuclear Security Administration have vested interests in exascale computing, the Committee commends efforts to collaborate on exascale research across these two programs and encourages further coordination and collaboration.”  Later in this report, the committee calls for a report on the development of an operational exascale platform, and encourages DOE to involve small companies and research organizations working in this area.

Basic Energy Sciences

The FY 2011 appropriation was $1,678.2 million
The FY 2012 Administration request was $1,985.0 million
The House Appropriations Committee recommends $1,688.2 million, an increase of 0.6 percent or $10.0 million as compared to the current budget

There is lengthy report language, excerpts of which follow:

[Energy Innovation Hubs]

“The recommendation includes $24,300,000 for the third year of the Fuels from Sunlight Energy Innovation Hub. The Committee is encouraged that this Hub is aggressively partnering with Energy Frontier Research Centers and other Department-funded groups conducting research into catalysts, membranes, and other areas that can contribute to the Hub’s mission.

“The Department is directed to deliver to the Committee, not later than 60 days after enactment of this Act, a report detailing: the current status of the Hub, including number of employees and status of the Hub’s final offices and other facilities; all milestones originally set forth for the Hub, including those for the end of fiscal years 2010 and 2011; the Hub’s current performance in meeting those milestones; the Hub’s milestones for fiscal years 2012, 2013 and 2014; and the specific milestones and performance criteria that the Hub must meet in order to be considered for a second five-year term.

“Within available funds, the recommendation includes $20,000,000 to establish an Energy Innovation Hub for Batteries and Energy Storage. The Department is directed to deliver to the Committee, not later than 90 days after enactment of this Act, a report detailing: a timeline for selecting the awardee; draft organizational and research milestones for the end of fiscal years 2012 through 2016; and specific criteria the Hub must meet to be considered for extension beyond the initial five-year term. The report must also identify how the Hub will work with other Department of Energy programs and activities focusing on batteries and energy storage, including any Energy Frontier Research Centers focusing on related research areas.”

[Energy Frontier Research Centers]

“From within available funds, the recommendation includes no funds to establish new Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs), the same as the request. The Department first funded the existing EFRCs in fiscal year 2009, establishing 46 centers for initial five year periods to research five areas of science that would enable energy innovation. The Committee supports the energy-focused missions of the centers, as well as the increased visibility, transparency
and accountability they bring to research conducted within Basic Energy Sciences.

“As with other initiatives established for limited terms, such as the Energy Innovation Hubs and BioEnergy Research Centers, the Department should not assume that all, or even most, Energy Frontier Research Centers will be continued beyond their fifth year in fiscal year 2013. Rather, each EFRC will be required to demonstrate superior performance and results germane to the Department’s energy-focused mission in order to receive an extension beyond the initial five-year award. To prepare for that review process and to better inform the Committee on the performance of these centers, the Department is directed to provide to the Committee, not later than March 1, 2012, a report including the five-year research goals for each EFRC, each center’s current status towards reaching those goals, and the Department’s latest rating of each EFRC’s performance as they pass their half-way point and the Committee considers funding for the last year of the initial five-year awards.”

[EPSCoR]

“The recommendation provides no funds, $8,520,000 below the request, for the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research.”

[Gas Hydrates]

“The Department proposed in the fiscal year 2011 budget request, and again this year, to move gas hydrates research from the Office of Fossil Energy to the Office of Science. As the proposed activities remain largely unchanged, this activity is more appropriately and effectively located within the Office of Fossil Energy. As such, no funding is included in the recommendation for Basic Energy Sciences for the proposed new gas hydrates activity.”

[Project Funding Termination]

“Terminations of Underperforming Projects. -- Basic Energy Sciences research often operates at the boundaries of human knowledge in pursuit of solutions to the Department’s energy challenges.  In this mission-focused pursuit, projects can often fail, either due to deficiencies of the research team or simply due to unexpected obstacles encountered when confronting some of the most difficult scientific problems. When a multi-year project struggles to meet its goals, it is a difficult decision but may be the best use of taxpayer dollars to terminate the project. The Committee is concerned that this effective practice is not often implemented at the Department of Energy.

“The Committee is encouraged by one example, the Advanced Research Projects Agency -- Energy, which is closely monitoring all projects and actively considering the termination of projects that fail to meet their challenging goals. However, the Committee is concerned that Basic Energy Sciences is not holding its research groups accountable in the same way, and that it is not terminating underperforming grants.

“Further, while a portion of Basic Energy Sciences research is awarded to known recipients with defined goals - for example, to Energy Frontier Research Centers and Energy Innovation Hubs - more than 80 percent of the $854,669,000 of research in the budget request for Basic Energy Sciences lacks transparency to the public and to the Congress. The Committee is concerned that, in light of this lack of transparency, research activities receiving federal funding are not being held accountable to achieve the goals that make Basic Energy Science so critical to American scientific expertise and energy innovation. 

“While free scientific exploration without use-inspired goals is important to advancing science, innovation, and American intellectual property, research funded under Department of Energy programs is ultimately centered on its core energy-focused goals. Within that context, most Science research should have concrete goals, and most research should have measurable performance. The Department is therefore directed to create a performance ranking of all
ongoing multi-year research projects across Basic Energy Sciences, including those at universities, national laboratories, Energy Frontier Research Centers, Energy Innovation Hubs and other recipients, by comparing current performance with original project goals.

“The Department is directed to terminate the lowest-ranking awards within Basic Energy Sciences in the amount of $25,000,000, and to report to the Committee, not later than March 15, 2012, on the results of the ranking exercise and selected terminations. These terminations will ensure that taxpayer dollars go only to the highest-performing projects, and will serve as a first step towards increasing the accountability and effectiveness of the research in this important program.”

Biological and Environmental Research

The FY 2011 appropriation was $611.8 million
The FY 2012 Administration request was $717.9 million
The House Appropriations Committee recommends $547.1 million, a decrease of 10.6 percent or $64.7 million as compared to the current budget

The report states: “The Committee supports activities that align closely with the Department’s core missions and advance the nation’s leadership in intellectual property generation and energy innovation,” and then explains the bill, as requested, provides no funding for medical applications of artificial retinas.  The report continues:

[Climate Change Research]

“The Climate and Environmental Sciences program devotes the majority of its funding to areas not directly related to the core mandate of science and technology research leading to energy innovations.  Further, climate research at the Department of Energy is closely related to activities carried out in other federal agencies and may be better carried out by those organizations. The Department proposes to eliminate medical research focused on human applications in order to direct limited funds to on-mission purposes, and the Department should apply the same principles to climate and atmospheric research.”

[Bioenergy Research Centers]

“The Committee continues to support the goals of the Bioenergy Research Centers (BRCs), which conduct science research aiming to develop the next generation of economic fuels made from domestic plant sources that do not compete with the nations’ food supply.  Successful breakthroughs at the BRCs could result in technologies that could leapfrog current incarnations of cellulosic biofuels and provide a path to substantially reducing the nation’s oil imports.

“However, these centers were never envisioned as permanent research institutions dependent on federal funding, but instead as temporary and targeted initiatives with five-year terms. In order to receive funding beyond fiscal year 2012, the fifth full year of funding, the Department will need to fully justify to the Committee each center’s performance. The Committee therefore directs the Department to provide to the Committee, not later than February 6, 2012, a full evaluation of each Bioenergy Research Center, a comparison of each center’s achievements with the Department’s original targets, and the Department’s subsequent recommendation for extension or conclusion of each center.

“While the Department has increased collaboration between the Bioenergy Research Centers and its applied research and development programs, the Committee encourages greater integration and cooperation among these activities in order to more effectively advance biofuels solutions from the laboratories to commercial production.”

Fusion Energy Sciences

The FY 2011 appropriation was $375.5 million
The FY 2012 Administration request was $399.7 million
The House Appropriations Committee recommends $406.0 million, an increase of  8.1 percent or $30.5 million as compared to the current budget

The report states:

[Inertial Confinement Fusion]

“While the National Nuclear Security Administration performs inertial confinement fusion research for nuclear stockpile stewardship, the Office of Science has historically focused on magnetic confinement fusion and other related research. The Committee continues to strongly support magnetic confinement fusion research both as a source of American scientific leadership and expertise, and as a long-term effort to develop a clean energy alternative powered by domestic resources. As a result of the program’s sole focus on magnetic fusion energy, however, the Office of Science’s program does not have a broad framework for pursuing research avenues related to inertial fusion energy.

“In anticipation of achieving ignition at the National Ignition Facility - a critical milestone in the demonstration of inertial confinement fusion’s feasibility for energy production - the Department has commissioned a National Academies study assessing the prospects for power generation with inertial fusion energy and identifying obstacles and challenges that will assist in developing a research and development roadmap. The Committee supports this study and encourages the Department to move quickly upon completion of the report to determine a proposed path forward for inertial fusion energy in the event ignition is achieved.

“Further, the Committee remains concerned that research expertise may be lost while the Department awaits completion of the National Academies study, which is not due until July of 2012. The Committee urges the Department to fully evaluate existing research capabilities that do not fit easily within the existing weapons-focused inertial and energy-focused magnetic confinement fusion programs, such as krypton fluoride lasers and magneto-inertial fusion, but that may play important roles if an inertial fusion energy program moves forward in future years. The Department should take action to avoid irreversible losses in expertise in these areas before completion of the National Academies study.”

[ITER]

“The budget request proposes $105,000,000 for ITER, the first full-scale test reactor for fusion energy. The Committee supports this project as an important step in the development of fusion energy and takes seriously the Department’s commitments to international collaborations. However, the Department of Energy’s required contribution to ITER is expected to increase substantially in the next several years, and the Committee is concerned that, while funding for ITER will yield important advances to domestic superconductor and other manufacturing capabilities, it may leave little budgetary room to continue supporting critical American fusion science expertise. Further, the Department has not preemptively indicated how it is planning for this impending budgetary challenge, nor has it created a clear prioritization of activities within Fusion Energy Sciences to guide tradeoffs when budgets are tight.

“The Department is therefore directed to submit a 10-year plan, not later than 12 months after enactment of this Act, on the Department’s proposed research and development activities in magnetic fusion under four realistic budget scenarios. The report shall (1) identify specific areas of fusion energy research and enabling technology development in which the United States can and should establish or solidify a lead in the global fusion energy development effort, and (2) identify priorities for facility construction and facility decommissioning under each of the four budget scenarios. The Department is encouraged to use a similar approach adopted by the Particle Physics Project Prioritization Panel that developed a 10-year strategic plan for the Department’s high energy physics program.”

High Energy Physics

The FY 2011 appropriation was $795.4 million
The FY 2012 Administration request was $797.2 million
The House Appropriations Committee recommends $797.2 million, an increase of  0.2 percent or $1.8 million as compared to the current budget

The report states:

[Large Hadron Collider]

“The United States led the world in high-energy particle physics for much of the twentieth century, most recently as the host of Fermilab’s Tevatron accelerator, which staged the world’s highest energy particle collisions for several decades. As the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN ramps up operation as the world’s leading experimental site for high-energy collider physics, the Committee supports the Department of Energy’s significant ongoing contributions to this international collaboration probing the edges of scientific discovery on the nature of the universe. The Committee also supports the Department’s careful prioritization within this program and decision to invest in the so-called ‘intensity frontier’’ of high-energy physics -- an area of science in which the United States can become a global leader. In a time marked by the need for fiscal restraint, the Department will be pressed to further prioritize between these two competing directions within High Energy Physics.

[DUSEL]

“The Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory (DUSEL) has been an important component of the Department’s planning for the build-out of its neutrino and dark matter experimental capabilities. The decision by the National Science Foundation to discontinue funding for the underground laboratory has created additional uncertainty for program planning and delayed the Critical Decision 1 milestone for the Long Baseline Neutrino Experiment.

“As the Department weighs alternatives, the Committee cautions the Department against taking over the construction and long-term management of DUSEL. Adopting management of yet another laboratory site would add budgetary and management burdens to an already stressed program. However, the Committee supports the use of funding to maintain the viability of the DUSEL underground laboratory, including dewatering and maintaining security, in order to preserve it as an option while the Department weighs the alternatives. Further, the Department is directed to report to the Committee an assessment of alternatives to DUSEL and its recommendations for moving forward.”

Nuclear Physics

The FY 2011 appropriation was $540.1 million
The FY 2012 Administration request was $605.3 million
The House Appropriations Committee recommends $552.0 million, an increase of  2.2 percent or $11.9 million as compared to the current budget

The report states:

“The Committee recommends $552,000,000 for Nuclear Physics, $11,886,000 above fiscal year 2011 and $53,300,000 below the request.  The recommendation includes $24,000,000 for the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, $6,000,000 below the budget request.

“The Committee notes that the Nuclear Physics program has unique experimental capabilities for testing materials under irradiative environments. Materials stressed by intense radiation are important to many technologies, including nuclear fission and nuclear fusion. After the completion of the fusion energy experiment ITER, for example, the most significant technical obstacle to construction of a fully-operational demonstration fusion reactor is the development of containment materials that can withstand a sustained high flux of neutrons without significant degradation.  The Committee encourages the Department to consider ways to strengthen productive cooperation between Nuclear Physics and other programs at the Department of Energy to better understand and develop materials that can withstand high levels of radiation.”

Richard M. Jones
Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
rjones@aip.org
301-209-3095