As part of the DOE budget process, last week we presented the program of the laboratory to the Office of High Energy Physics (OHEP) under three budget scenarios for the fiscal years 2011 through 2015. The guidance for these scenarios came from OHEP. The lowest scenario was one in which the program was cut by 5 percent in FY2012 relative to the FY2010 enacted level and stayed flat, without inflation adjustments, through FY2015. The middle scenario was one where we essentially stayed flat from FY2010 through FY2015, without inflation adjustments. In the top scenario we were encouraged to ask for what we need to accomplish an optimal program by adding selectively to a limited set of initiatives. At the end of the day we will live in only one scenario, possibly not even one that we presented. However, each of the three scenarios is important. Together they describe where we would make cuts if we had to cut and where we would add funding should this become possible. These scenarios allow our program managers to propose and defend budgets for HEP in the context of the overall Office of Science.
Articulating clearly the program in high energy physics has never been more important. The President’s FY2012 Budget Request to Congress has made clear priority choices, with a strong emphasis on science that addresses issues in clean energy. That is not where we make our mark. At the same time the administration is supporting particle physics with a program that allows us to transition to new programs within a relatively flat budget profile. The Secretary of Energy, in his testimony to the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, made it clear that the funding for particle physics can increase when we start building new, large facilities that now do not fit within a flat budget profile.
The scenarios we worked hard to understand could, of course, be thrown out the window if some of the present cuts proposed in Congress are applied. During the trip to Washington I spent a day visiting various Congressional offices. The picture that emerges is quite murky. The House bill that cuts 20 percent from the Office of Science in the current fiscal year will go to the Senate where it is likely to be defeated. The Senate has introduced its own bill cutting “only” 5 percent from the Office of Science. It is not even clear that such a bill will pass the Senate, never mind the House. At some point all of this should lead to an agreement by the House, the Senate and the Administration to tackle the deficit in a comprehensive manner. How that will play out, and what effects the various pressure points like a government shutdown or the need to raise the debt limit will have, are all up in the air.
One thing that is clear so far is the lack of understanding of the role of the Office of Science. Both in the House and the Senate bills, the Office of Science is cut significantly more than the NSF, NIH or NASA science programs. There is an immediate and acute need to explain that the Office of Science is an integral part of the scientific enterprise of our nation, provides the major scientific facilities, is the major supporter of the physical sciences and is no less important than the other major scientific agencies.