Over the past week, we completed three full days of presentations on what we call the budget uploads for FY12. These detailed budget presentations tell us how all the divisions, sections and centers fit our budget guidelines for the coming fiscal year. The process is an iterative one where, at the end of the day, the planned work has to correspond to the budget and staffing levels in the multiple budget lines we receive.
We prepared for these analyses by providing guidelines two months in advance of these presentations with the funding levels we expected for the more than 50 budget and reporting categories we receive. These guidelines are our best guesses, hopefully conservative guesses, of where the funding will end up. Three weeks from the start of the fiscal year, they are only guesses. The legislative process on appropriations often does not converge until well into the fiscal year, leaving us in an uncertain state for several months. Last year, the predicted funding fluctuated dramatically, and we didn’t have a budget until Congress passed a full-year continuing resolution in April.
This summer, the House of Representatives passed the Energy and Water Appropriations Bill for FY12. The Senate Appropriations Committee marked-up the Energy and Water Bill, but it is not clear when, or if, it will be brought to the Senate floor for a vote. We are likely to be in a continuing resolution, at least for part of the year. Like in other years, Congress could decide to aggregate several bills in an omnibus bill.
At this stage of the process, the House bill and the Senate committee mark-up differ by $17 million – the Senate committee took $17 million of preliminary engineering and design (PED) funding from LBNE. This is an unfortunate situation for us. These PED funds are considered construction funds, even though they only fund the preliminary engineering design necessary to get to DOE’s Critical Decision 2-3A approval, which is the formal start of actual construction for a DOE project.
Due to the change of stewardship for the proposed deep underground laboratory in South Dakota from NSF to DOE, the decision-making process was delayed for both LBNE and the deep underground laboratory, making construction funding premature. However, we will need operating funds in roughly an equivalent amount to support the team that is now studying the options and costs for LBNE, which now include the development of a deep underground facility. The Senate committee supports the $15 million needed to maintain the mine dry and operating, while DOE studies various options. It is clear the intent is to hold things together until DOE makes a decision. We will be working on this issue in the next few weeks to make sure that DOE and Congress understand what is needed to support the DOE decision-making process with the study of various options and costs.