The Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved a fiscal year 2020 spending bill on Sept. 12 that would significantly increase funding for R&D programs across the Department of Energy. The budget for the DOE Office of Science would rise 10% to $7.22 billion under the proposal. That boost exceeds the 4% increase proposed by the House earlier this year and is disproportionately large compared to the 4% increase to the statutory cap on nondefense spending that Congress approved in July.
Spending on the Office of Science has risen steadily over the last several years, punctuated by a 16% increase in fiscal year 2018. The Senate’s proposed increase is not quite so large, but Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who chairs the chamber’s appropriations subcommittee for DOE, has recently said he would like energy R&D spending to double over five years. Whether he can persuade Congress to carry out that vision remains to be seen. For fiscal year 2020, the question is how much influence the Senate’s DOE proposal will have as negotiations over programs all across the government continue.
However those negotiations unfold, it is likely the Office of Science will see another budget increase. The House and Senate reports on their respective spending bills detail their program-level priorities for additional funding. Their proposed budget allocations across DOE’s six science program offices are summarized in the chart below. Proposals for facilities and other budget lines are collected in the FYI Federal Science Budget Tracker.
The Office of Science is currently ramping up efforts in five areas identified as priorities by the Trump administration: quantum information science, artificial intelligence, exascale computing, microelectronics, and biosecurity.
Quantum information science. This year, DOE planned to spend about $120 million on QIS and sought $169 million in its fiscal year 2020 budget request for activities across all six science program offices. The Senate is proposing $195 million, with $75 million directed toward establishing “up to five” QIS research centers. Called for in the National Quantum Initiative Act, the centers are each to be funded at up to $25 million annually. The House has not proposed specific amounts for QIS, but makes clear it supports DOE’s work in the area.
Artificial intelligence. The Senate proposes to meet the administration’s request for $71 million in funding for AI across five program offices. As with QIS, the House expresses support for work in the area without specifying a budget amount.
Other priorities. The administration requested $500 million for the Office of Science portion of DOE’s Exascale Computing Initiative, $25 million for microelectronics R&D, and $20 million for biosecurity. Neither the House nor the Senate specify office-wide funding amounts for these areas, which leaves DOE some leeway in allocating funding for them.
Congressional priorities. The Senate specifies $20 million within the Basic Energy Sciences program for research related to the capture of carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere. The effort is to be part of a coordinated program with DOE’s renewable and fossil energy offices.
The House report also contains the following language concerning biomedical research, reflecting a stated priority of Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), who chairs the House appropriations subcommittee for DOE:
“Collaborative research efforts between the department and the National Institutes of Health are developing breakthroughs in health research, including drug discovery, brain research, diagnostic technologies, imaging, and other biomedical research areas. The department is encouraged to expand its relationships with NIH in order to work together more strategically to leverage the department’s research capabilities, including instrumentation, materials, modeling and simulation, and data science.”
The report directs DOE to submit a plan responding to a 2016 Secretary of Energy Advisory Board task force report on biomedical sciences.
Basic Energy Sciences
The Basic Energy Sciences (BES) program supports a broad portfolio of research spanning materials science and engineering, chemical sciences, geosciences, and biosciences. The program presently funds 46 Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs) and two Energy Innovation Hubs. It also supports five light source user facilities, two neutron source user facilities, and five Nanoscale Science Research Centers (NSRCs), which together provide vanguard research capabilities to thousands of scientists annually.
EFRCs and Energy Innovation Hubs. The Senate proposes meeting the administration’s request for an additional $20 million for EFRCs to support solicitations for new centers, including “use-inspired science relevant to advanced microelectronics and QIS.” The Senate also supports a request for an additional $5 million to establish a new Energy Innovation Hub as the Caltech-based Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis approaches the end of its second and final five-year award.
User facilities. The Senate proposes a substantial budget bump for user facility operations to support instrument recapitalization, infrastructure improvements, and additional staffing. The Senate proposes that $18.5 million go toward work on the DISCOVER beamline at Oak Ridge National Lab’s Spallation Neutron Source.
Facility upgrade projects. BES currently has five major facility upgrade projects in the works, including one at Argonne National Laboratory’s Advanced Photon Source that recently received the go-ahead to begin construction. The only stark difference between the funding proposals for these projects is that the Senate proposes to intensify planning for the Second Target Station facility at Oak Ridge’s Spallation Neutron Source.
NSLS-II beamlines. The House proposes $5 million and the Senate up to $5.5 million for work on three new beamlines at Brookhaven National Laboratory’s National Synchrotron Light Source II. The project is expected to cost between $40 million and $60 million. The Senate notes, “Despite the NSLS-II becoming operational in 2014, the department has constructed only half of the 60 beamlines that the NSLS-II can accommodate.” It encourages DOE to include proposals for constructing additional beamlines in future budget requests so that scientists can “more fully leverage the investment that has been made in the NSLS-II while it is the most powerful X-ray light source in the nation.”
NSRC instruments. The House specifies $5 million for recapitalizing instruments at DOE’s five NSRCs. The Senate leaves room for the same amount in its direction that BES spend at least $10.5 million on major items of equipment.
High Energy Physics
The High Energy Physics (HEP) program supports particle and cosmological physics research, particle accelerator R&D, operations at Fermilab, and the development and conduct of experiments at other laboratories including CERN.
Major projects. The House and Senate both propose increased construction funding for the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility and Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (LBNF/DUNE), which aim to make world-leading observations of neutrino behavior. Both chambers also propose to ramp up funding for the Proton Improvement Plan II (PIP-II) accelerator upgrade at Fermilab, which will enable the production of neutrinos for LBNF/DUNE. Accelerator and detector upgrades at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider are likewise well positioned to continue apace.
Sanford Underground Research Facility. The House proposes $25 million and the Senate $35 million for work at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in South Dakota, which hosts sensitive particle detection experiments. DOE is upgrading infrastructure at the facility to support construction related to the eventual installation of the DUNE detector there.
Fusion Energy Sciences
The Fusion Energy Sciences (FES) program funds fundamental plasma science and research related to generating energy from nuclear fusion. The program also supports two U.S.-based tokamak facilities, one of which is under repair, and it contributes to the construction of the international ITER tokamak facility in France. FES is currently benefiting from a surge in congressional support, with a budget that is almost 50% higher than it was in fiscal year 2017.
ITER. With renewed confidence in the project’s management, the U.S. has increased its support for ITER following a nadir two years ago. The Senate proposes increasing funding from its current level of $132 million to $180 million for “domestic, in-kind contributions and related support activities of the ITER project.” The House proposes an increase to $230 million and does not place conditions on its use, enabling DOE to cover some of the U.S.’ cash funding obligation in addition to its contributions of equipment.
Materials Plasma Exposure eXperiment. The Senate proposes ramping up funding for MPEX from $15 million to $30 million, while the House proposes $21 million. Located at Oak Ridge National Lab, the experiment aims to test materials in environments similar to those that would be found in fusion reactors.
LaserNetUS. The Senate proposes $20 million for LaserNetUS, while the House proposes $20 million for “High Energy Density Laboratory Plasmas, including activities for LaserNetUS.” LaserNetUS is a consortium of nine U.S.-based laser facilities that DOE organized late last year in response to a 2017 National Academies report on U.S. competitiveness in ultrafast, high-intensity lasers that called for reducing fragmentation among researchers in the field.
Petawatt laser upgrade. The 2017 report also recommended that DOE establish at least one ultrafast, high-intensity laser facility that is co-located with other DOE scientific facilities. Accordingly, the House proposes $20 million and the Senate $16 million to commence work on a power upgrade to the Matter in Extreme Conditions end station at SLAC’s Linac Coherent Light Source user facility.
Private fusion initiatives. With alternative paths to fusion energy attracting the attention of private investors, FES established the Innovation Network for Fusion Energy (INFUSE) program this summer to foster collaborations between these ventures and DOE national labs. The Senate proposes up to $20 million for INFUSE and separately proposes that FES spend up to $20 million to launch a new “Fusion Public–Private Partnership Cost Share Program” that would support “large-scale integrated performance prototype demonstrations within the next five years.” The House specifies $4 million for the partnership program’s creation and stipulates that “all activities within this program must be basic research and development.”
The Nuclear Physics (NP) program supports fundamental research on the strong and weak forces that govern the behavior of atomic nuclei. The program also supports three major accelerator facilities and manages the DOE Isotope Program, which produces and distributes isotopes for a variety of critical applications.
Major projects. The House and Senate propose similar funding levels for a variety of facility and equipment projects within the NP portfolio. Construction is ramping down on the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams at Michigan State University, which will enable studies of nuclear synthesis important for understanding the origins of the elements and the early history of the universe. The Stable Isotope Production Facility at Oak Ridge National Lab is also set to receive its last funding infusion before it begins operations.
U.S. Stable Isotope Production and Research Center. The House proposes $25 million and the Senate $30 million to commence work on a new facility at Oak Ridge that would further expand the lab’s ability to produce important non-radioactive isotopes.
Neutrino-less Double Beta Decay experiment. The Senate proposes $5 million to begin early work on a “ton-scale” detector designed to observe a hypothetical process that, if it occurs, would demonstrate that neutrinos are their own anti-particles. The project was a top recommendation in the 2015 Long Range Plan for Nuclear Science.
Electron-Ion Collider. The House and Senate both propose $11 million to begin early work on the proposed Electron-Ion Collider. The facility would enable highly precise studies of how the strong force binds atomic nuclei and was recommended by the 2015 Long Range Plan for Nuclear Science. Although DOE has not yet published a formal cost range estimate for the collider, it is anticipated it would cost over $1 billion and be built at either Brookhaven National Lab or the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility.
Advanced Scientific Computing Research
The Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR) program supports high-performance computing facilities at DOE national labs and related R&D. A recent focus area, the program’s budget has grown 45% since fiscal year 2017.
Exascale Computing Project. In line with DOE’s plans to commission its first exascale computing system in 2021, the House and Senate both propose ramping down funding for ASCR’s program-wide exascale computing account from $233 million to $189 million. The decrease reflects the completion of certain vendor partnerships relating to application and software stack development.
Research. The House proposes increasing funding for mathematical, computational, and computer sciences research by 19% to $155 million, while the Senate proposes a 22% increase to $160 million. Both chambers use identical language in justifying their proposals, stating, “Maintaining international leadership in high performance computing requires a long-term and sustained commitment to basic research in computing and computational sciences, including applied math, software development, networking science, and computing competency among scientific fields.”
Biological and Environmental Research
The Biological and Environmental Research (BER) program funds a broad portfolio of research ranging from molecular biology to Earth systems modeling. The Trump administration has consistently targeted BER for large cuts, but Congress has maintained support for the program.
Facilities and research centers. BER supports three major research facilities: the Joint Genome Institute (JGI) user facility in California, the multi-laboratory Atmospheric Radiation Measurement facility, and the Environmental Molecular Science Laboratory at Pacific Northwest National Lab. The only funding level specified for these facilities is the Senate’s proposal to boost the JGI budget from $70 million to $80 million. BER also supports four Bioenergy Research Centers, which both the House and Senate propose to continue funding at $100 million collectively.
Research programs. The Senate specifies funding increases across many of BER’s research programs, including a 57% increase for Biomolecular Characterization and Imaging Science that would bring its budget to $55 million.
Low-dose radiation research. The House proposes that BER allocate up to $10 million for its low-dose radiation research program. DOE discontinued the program in 2016 but Congress required the department to revive it through the DOE Research and Innovation Act, which was signed into law one year ago.
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