The Chicago Tribune has a long article on how the budget fight between the US Congress and President Bush has harmed and even damaged not only Argonne and Fermilab, but also US science and its competitive edge. It's political warefare, and science becomes the victim. This view is consistent with the e-mail sent out by the APS about a week ago:
Dear APS Members:
Although several thousand APS members responded to the last alert on federal science funding, the communications failed to affect positively what ultimately became a highly partisan appropriations process. To attempt to rectify the damage caused by the Fiscal Year 2008 (FY08) Omnibus Appropriations Bill, APS President Arthur Bienenstock will soon be asking you to e-mail your Members of Congress urging that they take emergency action early in the next session. But first, a summary of what is known and documented:
Two weeks ago, almost three months into the new fiscal year, Congress finally passed an FY08 budget - unfortunately, it is devastating to significant programs in the physical sciences. It represents a dramatic turnabout in a time of unprecedented outspoken support for science across party lines, legislative chambers and branches of government.
Science funding in FY08 was originally set to increase substantially. Consistent with the America COMPETES Act, President Bush's American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI) and the Democratic Innovation Agenda, the National Science Foundation would have received a 10 percent increase; the National Institute of Standards and Technology Core Programs, a 17 percent increase; and the Department of Energy's Office of Science, an 18 percent increase. The increases represented the beginning of a 10-year plan to double federal investment in physical science and engineering research.
Early in the summer, the House passed all 12 appropriations bills that cover discretionary spending, totaling $955 billion. By early October, the Senate Appropriations Committee had acted on many of them, but the Senate leadership did not bring any of them to the floor for a vote. President Bush had already warned that he would veto appropriations bills if, in the aggregate, they exceeded his $933 billion ceiling. Two weeks ago, responding to the President's veto threat, Congress, having already passed the Defense appropriations bill, rewrote and passed the remaining FY08 budget bills as an omnibus spending package.
The Omnibus Bill is a disaster for the very sciences that our political leaders have repeatedly proclaimed essential for our national security, economic vitality and environmental stewardship. Several reports have suggested a picture less bleak, but they do not take into account the effects of either earmarks or inflation. In fact, numerous programs will have to be trimmed or canceled.
Hundreds of layoffs, furloughs and project shutdowns at Fermilab, SLAC, LBNL and other national laboratories and research universities seem unavoidable. U.S. funding for the International Linear Collider project will be curtailed for the balance of the fiscal year, placing extraordinary stress on the high-energy physics program. FY08 funding for the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) will be zeroed out, abrogating our agreement with our European and Asian partners. User facilities will see reductions in operating time and staff, and university research will contract. The list is long and the damage significant.
How could this happen, given the strong bipartisan support for science research and education? There is much speculation that with negotiations having broken down and the President adamant on the total spending, Democratic leaders made the following assessment: First, that there were insufficient votes to override a presidential veto of their spending plans. Second, since the Senate had failed to act on the appropriations in a timely fashion, Democrats would be blamed for any government shutdown that might result from a spending stalemate. Their strategy was to accede to the President's $933 billion bottom line, but, to get there, "by whacking GOP priorities" as the Associated Press reported on December 10. So, with ACI carrying a presidential label, much of the increases for NSF, DOE Science and the NIST labs were erased to meet the budget restrictions. Since ITER was seen as one of the top Administration's priorities, its entire funding was zeroed with strong language to prevent reprogramming of funds to save the project. House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-WI) suggested that the $9.7 billion in earmarks be removed to allow funding for other priorities, but his colleagues refused to go along.
Added to this calculus is a well-known fact: Science has rarely, if ever, been a factor in determining the outcome of an election. Even for scientists, funding for research and education most often is not a major determinant in whom they support -- unlike members of other interest groups, such as the National Rifle Association or the American Medical Association, who frequently vote based on their "special" interests. Given such a history and the hard-ball politics that played out this month, letters from scientists to their Members of Congress, unfortunately, did not rule the day.
When Congress returns later this month, Members may be more receptive to listening to their science constituents. We will be sending you another alert next week, after we have determined that the landscape is more favorable. Please respond when we contact you. Your voice may well make the difference at that time.
Michael S. Lubell
Director of Public Affairs
The American Physical Society
I have posted earlier of the letter-writing campaign. If you are a US resident and are concerned about what is going on here, I urge you to follow the link and let your representatives hear about it.
Note that if you think that only high energy physics and nuclear physics are the ones affected, think again. ALL the US DOE National Laboratories have a 1% reduction. And means that various facilities such as synchrotron light sources where many different types of research is done, even by various private companies, will have reduction in operational days. Previous research plans will now either have to be changed or scrapped. So the collateral damage is extensive.