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About the Author

Rene Bellwied is a professor of physics at Wayne State University, and was the chair of the RHIC/AGS Users Executive Committee 2007-2008.

A Year in Review:
The Work of the Users Executive Committee

By Rene Bellwied

The past year has been very eventful for all of us, largely because of decisions made in Washington regarding science funding. The UEC has tried to navigate through these ever changing circumstances keeping in mind the best interests of the BNL users community. We were successful in participating in large letter writing campaigns to our national representatives, organized by the American Physical Society, and we had organized our own pledge to Washington lawmakers to continue and expand their commitment towards fundamental research.

The bi-partisan commitment to doubling the science budget over ten years, which was summarized under the 'America Competes' Act, has dwindled in the past two years under the increased pressure of funding 'higher priority' items such as defense and supporting the global economy. Last year's budget was effectively a frozen budget from the previous year, and only the supplemental, passed half way through FY 2008, helped in averting major layoffs at some of the nation's premier National Laboratories. The UEC was at least partially successful in making the case for this supplemental science funding bill during a visit of the three UEC chairs in Washington in early 2008.

A continuing resolution at least until March 09, and without the supplemental funding from 2008 included in the base, has recently passed the House, and signals dire times, at least for the beginning of 2009. BNL management has planned well though and Steve Vigdor has explained in one of previous RHIC news editions how the 2009 RHIC run will start according to schedule independent of the uncertain situation in Washington. Still, the UEC, now more than ever, will have to do everything to keep science support a high priority in Washington.

Our organization is also very closely involved with the National User Facility Organization (NUFO) which represents the 27 largest DOE and NSF national user facilities in Washington. In the past year three of us (Brant Johnson, Susan White DePace, and myself) were elected to the NUFO steering committee, and I will be leading the organization in the coming year as NUFO chair. NUFO also recently became a member of The Task Force on the Future of American Innovation (http://futureofinnovation.org), a coalition consisting of 37 member groups including industrial outlets such as Battelle, Google, IBM, Intel and Microsoft, and national science organizations such as the APS, ACS, and NUFO. The main purpose of this group is to push for increased federal research funding and educate lawmakers on the benefit and link between science research and the economy. The Task Force was formed based on the conclusions of the Gathering Storm report which was published several years ago. A free copy of the executive summary of this report can be found here (.pdf).

On the home front we have tackled a series of quality of life (QOL) issues which were relevant to the users.

The BNL café which opened in January in RSB turns out to be a resounding success, and we are very encouraged by the user response. We are presently negotiating extended opening hours for the weekends.

In late 2007 we conducted an online housing survey amongst our users. The response was overwhelming (more than 700 responses), and the results were surprising, at least for some of us. Apparently most of you are satisfied with the present state of housing on-site and many of you accept the limited comfort for the very low price in return. In particular group leaders pointed out that without the low prices of dorm housing, the staffing of experiments during beam times and extended research stays outside of beam times for young scientists would be impossible. The UEC has therefore dropped a dedicated effort to further improve the housing situation through outside contractors. We are still monitoring the efforts by the Suffolk County administration to develop workforce housing in the Yaphank area that would also be used as a resource by BNL. We are supporting the housing office in their efforts to keep up with renovating the existing structures, and we have facilitated monthly discussions among the UEC, the housing office and the Association of Students and Postdocs (ASAP) at BNL. ASAP has turned out to be a valuable partner for the UEC. It represents the largest portion of the user community that a.) has been previously gravely underrepresented and b.) is the largest onsite user of housing. ASAP’s input to the quality of life issues generally form the basis for the UEC’s effort to improve on-site living, and issues such as kitchen improvements, bathroom improvements, laundry accessibility, gym renovation, shuttle services, street lighting, wireless access in dorms and a bicycle rental program have been initiated and partially completed in the past year. The only topic that hit a serious roadblock in 2007/2008 was the issue of lighting the access road to the RHIC ring in order to make walking to the experimental sites a little safer. It turns out that the cost for this project is higher than anticipated and that within the overall lighting plan of the laboratory the RHIC road has less priority than some of the more heavily used areas around RSB. We were assured though that the problem has been recognized and will be dealt with in due time. If you need more information about the other QOL issues, such as the bike program or shuttle services, please get in touch with the UEC or ASAP office.

One of the biggest concerns over the past year was the enhanced number of national security measures to the laboratory management protocol, which manifested itself for the users in increased restrictions on cyber security and lab admission procedures. Over the past year the users office has dealt as efficiently as possible with foreign national and
on-site computing issues. In January 2008 there were more than 200 guest registration forms waiting more than 30 days for initial or re-approval of on-site access. As of October 2008, there are a total of 40 waiting greater than 30 days. Although this is a great improvement, BNL continues to work on reducing this even further.  New cyber security training that has gone into effect recently should help to address some of the mandates from Washington. The UEC is working actively with ITD and several BNL wide committees in removing restrictions on each researcher’s need for free and open communication. If you have additional concerns please do not hesitate to get in touch with us.

Finally, the UEC is in charge of organizing the annual users meeting plus four ‘Open Forum’ discussion meetings each year. The past year has seen a very successful users meeting highlighted by the day-long ‘International Symposium on RHIC and its impact on Nuclear Science’ and the diversity panel discussion which focused on gender issues in the scientific workplace. Both events have been featured separately in past RHIC news articles, and I just want to mention that the success of the panel discussion in particular, encouraged us to continue these kinds of open exchanges during upcoming user meetings. We will tackle topics such as minority hiring and career opportunities for young scientists in the future. The Open Forum discussions often feature senior laboratory managers and Washington representatives, such as Mike Holland from the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) or Mike Lubell, the APS Director of Public Affairs. These open discussions allow the user to understand and challenge the decision making process in Washington and I encourage you to attend next week’s ‘Open Forum’ at the DNP meeting. Our featured speaker will be John Henry Scott from the federal Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

In summary, this has been a busy and exciting year for the UEC, as have been many of the previous years. I think our users can be proud of a very active and involved UEC that does not shy away from tackling some of the demanding issues of our time. I was honored to serve as the chair for the past year, and I want to thank my 18 colleagues who served with me as well as the tireless staff of the Users office for all their support. The UEC serves a very important purpose, which I only realized after actually serving on it, so please consider getting involved in this work, either on your own volition or when we call upon you. Thank you.