We Don’t Need No Stink’n Budget January 7, 2007Posted by gordonwatts in politics, science.
Every year the US congress passes a budget. It is a lot of work, and definitely has lots of problems (can you say “pork”?). But not for 2007. The last congress managed to get homeland security and defense through, but didn’t get to the rest of the government. Science, for example (the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science).
What does that mean for 2007? I suppose it could be worse: we could have no budget at all. Instead, however, we have a so-called continuing resolution. This means we live 2007 with exactly the same budget at 2006. This translates to a 3-4% loss dues to inflation: our budgets don’t get a cost-of-living increase.
3-4% doesn’t sound like much. Especially on a budget of 5 billion (about the size of the NSF’s budget). But that translates to 150 million. What can you do with that? You can fund, for a year, more than 150 groups the size of our UW particle physics group. That is 4 professors, 1 research professor, 4+ graduate students, and 2 post-docs. And provide them with travel and equipment funds. That is a lot of people and a lot of research!
Continuing resolutions aren’t new. We have them almost every year: it is rare that congress finishes everything on time. The difference is the new congress has said they aren’t going to clean up the budget mess left by the last congress. This means continuing resolutions for all of 2007 for those of us who depend on government funding to do our work. Ouch!
We had an email from the Fermilab director a few days ago describing what might happen if this situation doesn’t change. The New York Times picked up the story from a more global perspective “Congressional Budget Delay Stymies Scientific Research” and wrote
“The consequences for American science will be disastrous,” said Michael S. Lubell, a senior official of the American Physical Society, the world’s largest group of physicists. “The message to young scientists and industry leaders, alike, will be, ‘Look outside the U.S. if you want to succeed.’
I’ve never seen such a bleak picture painted by the various lab directors: Fermilab would shut down for a month and lay off some number of its 4,200 employees, RHIC might be forced to close, and other labs will be forced to delay on-going (funded) projects by at least a year.
While all government funded research (with the possible exception of defense department research) is affected, I find this extra hard to swallow because:
For 2007, Congress and the Bush administration agreed that the federal budget for the physical sciences should get a major increase. A year ago, in his American Competitiveness Initiative, President Bush called for doubling the money for science over a decade. That prompted schools and federal laboratories to prepare for long-deferred repairs and expansions, plans that appear now to be in jeopardy.
We, in the physical sciences, have watched enviously as the health research funding has doubled over the course of the last 10 years. The next 5 or 10 years were, we hoped, going to be our turn.
On one level I don’t blame this congress for wanting to avoid this. They want to move on to new an exciting things rather than fixing up the mess of old. Where is the glory in that? On the other hand, this reminds me our our trigger (no, seriously). We have to decide in realtime which bunch-crossings to collect data for. At the Tevatron, they occur 2.7 million times a second and we can only write out about 100 of them. However, almost all of the 2.7 million crossings are totally boring. So we construct high-speed electronics that makes a snap decision on each bunch crossing and keeps only 100 of them: We make an intelligent decision on what to cut.
These 3-4% budget cuts across the board are politically expedient, help with the national debt, and are dumb. The easy way out. At the very least, I hope congress doesn’t take the easy way out and not address some of the privacy, security, and presidential-power issues that were also mangled during the last 6 years.