UEC Open Forum Meeting
By Jim Sowinski
One of the important activities of the Users Executive Committee (UEC) is to hold four Open Forum meetings for the users each year. These meetings are to encourage open communication between the users, the UEC and the BNL administration. It has become tradition for one of these Open Forum meetings to be held at the yearly DNP meeting, and this was again organized for the recent meeting in Oakland.
As communication with our government in Washington has become an ever important activity of the UEC and all users, we have been inviting various players along the path to our funding to come to these meetings and help inform us about how our government works, how we can help inform the government of our activities and needs, and better make our case in Washington.
At the recent Open Forum we invited Dr. John Henry Scott from the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to inform us on how that office operates and give us advice on how we can better make our case to the government. Dr. Scott received a physics degree from Cal. Tech., and spent some time in industry before going to grad school and earning his Ph.D. at Carnegie Mellon in 1996. He went to NIST as an NRC post-doc and then joined the staff working on chemical spectroscopy with electron microscopes and studying multivariate statistical analysis of high-dimensional data sets. He joined OSTP in a temporary position as a senior policy analyst starting about a year ago.
The title of his talk was "Nuclear Science: A view from OSTP". In the formal part of his talk he described OSTP's role in science policy and funding and the relationship of the office to other government agencies. The Office is in the White House and part of the Executive Office of the President and currently directed by John Marburger who was previously BNL Lab Director. Congress is at the opposite end of Pennsylvania Avenue and a separate branch of the government. The Director of OSTP and his two deputy directors are political appointees. meaning they are normally changed with a new administration. Below them are associate directors and policy analysts who are career or temporary employees that do not necessarily change with administrations. Many at this level, like Dr. Scott, are "detailees" meaning they are scientists who have taken a temporary leave from their position in another government agency to provide scientific expertise to the office. Contained in Dr. Scott's portfolio are NASA and DOE. He and many of the other detailees and career staffers in the Office will bridge the change of administrations to provide continuity until the new Director is appointed and approved by Congress.
He pointed out that research and development is a very small part of the budget. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB), a much larger office in the White House, currently divides the budget into four large categories. Science & technology funding make up a significant fraction of only the smallest category, although present at some level in all four. He quoted Mike Holland from OSTP as saying "It helps to think of the government as an insurance company with an army." In the 2009 request 18% of the budget is non-defense discretionary spending and the fraction of that spent on R&D is at the historical average of 12%. The President requests a 17.9% increase for Office of Science Nuclear Physics in the 2009 budget. Currently there is a continuing resolution and we are operating under 2008 budgets.
The discussions about improving science funding were mostly informal. Dr. Scott provided a few relevant quotes. At an NSAC meeting this past March Ray Orbach said "The scientific community is critically important: The community needs to make the case for the science, and its benefits to the Nation, to Congress and the public. Funding is not an entitlement." From a presentation at BNL in 2004 Dr. Scott quoted Chairman Boehlert, House Science Committee: "The argument that science funding is a long-term national investment does nothing to set scientists apart. All that sets you apart is that scientists are the only group that thinks they're making a unique argument." Enlisting others outside the basic research community in support, as was done with the American Competitive Initiative, is vitally important. Comments and questions from the audience helped convey the difficulties of performing high quality research in the current funding environment.
The next open forum will be early in the new year at BNL and will likely focus on the 2009 run. There will be another at a meeting in the spring and a 3rd during the Annual Users Meeting at BNL scheduled for June 22-26, 2009. Please keep an eye out for the announcements and join us.