National Labs Scramble To Absorb Cuts In DOE Physics Funding

WASHINGTON—Congress last month passed an $18.7 billion-dollar appropriations bill to fund all 1990 research programs sponsored by the Department of Energy. For officials at DOE’s research laboratories, the next move is to figure out how to cope with $31 million less than they had requested. The appropriations bill was intentionally vague, spelling out only $l0 million of the cut. Brookhaven’s Alternating Gradient Synchrotron will get $5 million less for operating costs than

Oct 16, 1989
Christopher Anderson

WASHINGTON—Congress last month passed an $18.7 billion-dollar appropriations bill to fund all 1990 research programs sponsored by the Department of Energy. For officials at DOE’s research laboratories, the next move is to figure out how to cope with $31 million less than they had requested.

The appropriations bill was intentionally vague, spelling out only $l0 million of the cut. Brookhaven’s Alternating Gradient Synchrotron will get $5 million less for operating costs than it asked for. But lab officials, although unhappy, take pride in the fact that a write-in campaign by those who use the facility staved off a possible cut twice that size. Another $5 million cut was made in high-energy technology, a classification that includes much of the funding for designing new or improved accelerators. Both the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) and Fermilab had hoped to use some of those funds to plan upgrades of existing facilities.

Accelerator research and development “really is an essential piece of improving [existing] machines,” says Fermilab director John Peoples, who is planning for several new upgrades to keep his lab productive until the Superconducting Supercollider (SSC) comes on-line in 1998. “We were pretty unhappy to see it go," he says. Some physicists find a culprit in the SSC, which received $225 million, at least $25 million more than many had predicted at the start of summer.

The other $21 million missing from the budget is to be cut from both the high-energy and nuclear-science areas. Although at press time DOE had not yet specified the breakdowns, proportional cuts would take another $10 million from high-energy programs, including SLAC and Fermilab, and around $5 million each from both nuclear science and the SSC.

Magnetic-confinement fusion was granted $18 million less than the $349 million the energy department had requested. The specific targets of the reduction, however, are left to DOE’s discretion. That leaves the door open for broad funding shifts within the program by Robert Hunter, director of the office of energy research, who has criticized existing magnetic fusion programs. One bright light in the energy budget is solar energy, which received a slight increase after eight years of declining funding. The 1990