Go Deep Field?

A friend of mine recently sent me a summary of a relevant portion of H.R. 2641, the FY2008 House Energy and Water Appropriations bill. In the more common tongue, this is the budget proposal from Congress for the Department of Energy, an agency that funds much of the U.S. basic research. Let’s go through some of the hard numbers, and then see some of the interesting language from this spending proposal.

First and foremost: what do the numbers tell us about Congress’ intent for basic research? Overall, the DOE budget is proposed to be $4.514 billion. This should be compared to the $3.797 billion enacted for FY07 in the late appropriation, and represents an increase of $717 million dollars (+19%). The President requested $4.397 billion, so the House recommendation is still 3% more than the request.

In my own field, the President’s request is met: $782 million. This includes an increase from $30 million to $60 million the R&D budget for the International Linear Collider (ILC). However, the language of the bill notes that ” . . . growth in the estimated cost for the International Linear Collider (ILC) means that the schedule for this major high energy physics facility, which the United States aspires to host, will be delayed. Implementation of the Dark Energy Mission without further delay can provide significant intellectual progress on the question of dark energy while further study is done on the ILC.” The House has taken Undersecretary for Science Orbach’s statement about the ILC being a mid 2020s project rather than a mid 2010s project and turned that into direct language about the project being delayed. The delay is attributed to “growth in the estimated cost”.

I find this last point ironic. Until this year’s release of the Global Design Effort (GDE) for the ILC, there was no official estimate. Reference to “growth” in the estimate is misleading. No official cost estimate was ever, to my knowledge, given to Congress (or anybody else). We all speculated about the cost, with private estimates ranging from $3 billion to $20 billion. The GDE proposes something around $6-7 billion. Sadly, this language makes it seem like the HEP community has been slipping on the cost estimate, when in reality the first and only such estimate appeared earlier this year, between budget cycles.

The second point here is also notable: a delayed ILC is a prime opportunity to proceed full blast with the Joint Dark Energy  Mission (JDEM). JDEM, long delayed for reasons not clear to me (but likely having to do with the differing proposals and the hack and slash budget tactics going on in NASA science), is spoken about strongly in this bill: “The Committee directs the Department to select, using competitive procedures, a mission science team and approach as soon as possible and proceed with a dark energy mission with a launch in fiscal year 2013. As part of this, the Committee directs DOE to explore other launch options, including cooperative international approaches and the procurement of private launch services, to get the Dark Energy Mission into space.”

The Energy and Water Committee is getting really serious. In short: ditch NASA for launch and go it alone, by whatever means necessary. The strongest point is made slightly earlier in the bill: “The Administration’s insistence that this mission be held hostage to NASA’s mission agenda sends the clear signal that space science is the purview of NASA regardless of the scientific questions to be addressed. If space science is the special preserve of NASA within the U.S. Government, then all funding for such missions should be provided by NASA and the Dark Energy Mission should proceed on that basis with NASA providing the funding for all work at DOE national laboratories selected by NASA for participation.” Here, the Committee wants to clearly take a differing position with the Administration. They want space science to be freed from the grip of NASA’s dwindling science budget, and they clearly believe in the case for understanding Dark Energy if they want to use it as the wedge to split space science from the space agency. While a role is clearly envisioned for NASA, it’s not one of leadership on the project.

If this becomes law, it will setup an interesting juxtaposition with experiments like GLAST, which are really the existing model for NASA/DOE partnership. Will DOE really be getting into the business of soliciting launch proposals, as well as science proposals?

For all the gory details, see House Report 110-185 on HR2641.


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