Analysis, Fermilab budget: Good news and bad

The proposed fiscal 2009 budget unveiled last week would restore funding for most physical science programs hurt by the inability for the U.S. legislative and executive branches to agree on a federal budget.
By Control Engineering Staff February 13, 2008

Batavia, IL — The proposed fiscal 2009 budget that President Bush unveiled last week would restore funding for most physical science programs hurt by the inability for the U.S. legislative and executive branches to agree on a federal budget. (Prior Control Engineering coverage includes: Budget cut impacts: Fermilab looks at options, 125 fewer people Fermilab responds to budget cuts: Time off without pay .)

Instead of having a realistic budget, the U.S. government has been funded by “continuing resolutions” that have effectively frozen spending at 2006 levels. The latest such resolution, in December 2007, triggered a furlough program at America’s premier high-energy physics laboratory,

Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab)

and forced lab administrators to eye possible staff cuts. The bad news is that the proposed budget will be too late for some scientists: Fermilab director Pier Oddone announced that layoffs will proceed.
“Today I must give you some difficult news,” Oddone announced in his “Director’s Corner” column for Feb. 5 in the lab’s newsletter Fermilab Today .

“To fit within the FY08 budget and to prepare for the likely extension of the FY08 level into the next fiscal year, I expect to proceed with the layoffs we discussed in our meetings in December,” Oddone said.

“The good news ,” Oddone continued, “is that the budget request for particle physics restores funding to the level before the devastating cuts in this year’s omnibus bill. For Fermilab, this request, if enacted by Congress, would fund the projects that are the key to our future accelerator program….

“The bad news is that, as in FY08, there is a long way between the budget request and the actual budget for FY2009.… The situation is similar to last year’s when proposed increases to the Office of Science yielded to the crunch created by the FY08 appropriations impasse.”

Under the proposed budget for fiscal year 2009, the Office of Science at the

U.S. Department of Energy

, which finances much of the physical sciences research, would receive an increase of nearly 19%, to $4.72 billion from $3.97 billion. Fermilab employees would no longer be forced to take two days of unpaid furlough each month. Design work on particle physics experiments would resume, and cutbacks in other programs might be restored. In addition, the proposed budget would allow the United States to resume contributing to ITER (originally named the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor), which is the next step toward commercially viable fusion power.

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