With the US Congress in a budget cutting mood, robust funding for scientific research—and especially basic research—is not a foregone conclusion. So it was something of a bright spot when last week the House Appropriations Committee approved a 2012 spending bill that despite cutting the overall Department of Energy budget by $6 billion, would trim only $42 million from its Office of Science, leaving $4.8 billion for research on clean energy, nuclear physics, fusion and other topics.
But the committee did target the Office of Science's largest research program, Basic Energy Science (BES), for potential future budget cuts. Legislators asked that DOE officials in the BES program to trim an additional $25 million from their balance sheets by cutting research projects that aren't delivering on their goals. Critics are decrying the move as stifling to the kind of innovative and risky basic research that energy science needs. "If you don't take risks, you don't make progress," Geraldine Richmond, a physical chemist at the University of Oregon in Eugene, told ScienceInsider. "BES does an incredible job already of cutting its lowest performers."
The bill now moves on to the full House and then the Senate.