Screwed by the Democrats January 8, 2008Posted by gordonwatts in politics.
Well, first some facts (and then onto more speculation). As a result of the omnibus budget agreement that cut science hard – and particle physics as well:
- BaBar and the SLAC b-factory will be shutting down early – in February (see video of the all hands meeting where this was discussed). They are basically being sacrificed so that the Tevatron can keep running. I believe their normal shutdown was the end of the year. As a member of an experiment on the Tevatron, all I can say is “thanks” and “sorry”. What a waste.
- SLAC and Fermilab will both have to fire a bunch of people. I’ve heard numbers like 10% and SLAC and similar numbers at Fermilab but I don’t know for sure.
- International Linear Collider accelerator research has been basically zeroed out for this year. Actually, they said we could spend 15 million. The problem was they told us to spend something like 85 million several months ago for the whole year – so we started to burn through it and now we are told we could only spend 15 million. So there is effectively nothing left.
- NOvA was put off at least a year. This is the off axis neutrino experiment that was to measure, among other things, theta13.
The Department of Energy‘s Office of Science’s Kovar put it well when discussing the most significant possible impacts of this:
This loss of skilled and highly trained personnel will be difficult for our community and will have impacts beyond the delays in NOvA and ILC R&D since many laboratory staff work on multiple efforts.
What makes this so painful for us is that all signs pointed towards increased funding – and then the rug was pulled out from under us. Indeed, even the direction from the agencies was to increase our funding. Since congress the white house and persons blue and red were all pointing in the same direction we thought we were home safe. Turns out that may have been exactly what got us in the end.
So, the next part is speculation (well, some of it). Some pulled from conversations and also from an email the American Physical Society president sent around (I can’t find a copy of that email online). I think we got screwed because of some stupid high school bathroom brawl. Seriously! These people in Washington are supposed to be professionals and even if one group wants to be a set of idiots the others should rise above it all. As far as I can tell, here is what happened:
- Congress just about finishes the omnibus spending bill. [Snark: exactly how late was this!?]
- At the last minute Bush says he will veto it unless it comes at his number. [Snark: Presumably this is to prove that he is a fiscal conservative.]
- Democrats and Republicans in congress go round and round. They do not have the votes to override a veto in the end.
- Democrats give up and say “he wants it 22 billion cheaper? OK, we’ll do it”. [Snark: how did we not miss this big big warning sign that something bad was about to happen!? 20-20 hindsight!]
- Perhaps 4 days later the bill is ready. They (the democrats or more likely the staffers) when through the bill looking for things that Bush wanted and cut them. ITER, which got nailed, was a presidential initiative. America Competes? Something Bush wanted. I am positive that no one involved would claim this is how it was done, but all fingers I can see point in that direction. [I have no snark here: sad]
What the hell were they thinking? They cut these programs just because they are pissed off at the White House? We elected them there to be intelligent about this. I don’t care that the White House is being a total idiot about this (i.e. not working with congress) — two wrongs don’t make a right!!!
On a more rational note. So, what can we do to prevent this from happening next time? There are several people in congress that are very interested in science, perhaps they need to be closer to the appropriations process? I have no idea. But I’d love to know what we need to do.
I’ll close with a short quote from an APS press release urging a revisit of the bill:
The American Physical Society, representing more than 46,000 physicists in universities, industry and national laboratories, regards the fiscal year 2008 omnibus spending bill as extraordinarily damaging to the nation’s science and technology enterprise. The bill fails to fund appropriately the research and education programs authorized in the bipartisan America COMPETES Act, which President Bush signed into law only four months ago. The consequential layoffs of scientists and engineers throughout the nation will discourage American youth from pursuing these fields, just as the country needs their participation to sustain economic growth and national security.