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From the Director: Budgets Good and Bad

(Photo - Persis Drell)
(Photo by Brad Plummer.)

As you may have read last week, the House Appropriations Committee of Congress released a list of spending measures for fiscal year 2011 that includes some proposed deep cuts for the Department of Energy's Office of Science. The proposed reductions would bring the office's funding back down to 2008 levels, which, if passed, would have a significant impact on the budgets of national laboratories such as SLAC for the remainder of this fiscal year.

While these numbers are harsh and cause for concern if we look at them out of context, it's important to remember that a proposal from the House Appropriations Committee is a first step in a process of negotiation in Congress and with the President before any budget is actually passed. The committee's proposals have to go before the entire House of Representatives for a vote first. If that passes, they would have to be reconciled with the budget proposed from the Senate, whose stated priorities are markedly different. The two houses of Congress would need to negotiate and come up with numbers both can agree on, which will likely change these proposed cuts from the House in a significant way. In addition, any budget would have to be signed by the President, who clearly stated his support in his State of the Union address for greater investment in innovation and research—exactly the type of work we do here at SLAC.

In fact, the President's FY 2012 budget, which was just unveiled yesterday, shows that the Office of Science, and SLAC in particular, are very well positioned for the coming fiscal year. The proposed budget includes funding for LCLS-II and for our new Science and User Support Building, as well as continued support for work being done by national laboratories in particle physics and astrophysics, such as research into dark matter and dark energy. In short, there is no question that the research we do here is a top priority for the President, for the DOE and the Office of Science.

That said, with the current realities of large budget deficits and worries about government spending, there is no doubt that we will need to prove more than ever the value we bring to the country through the work we do here. As I said in my column a few weeks ago, we have made tremendous progress in setting SLAC up for future success, but we can't rest on our laurels or on the shoulders of past achievements. We must continue to make improvements, continue to innovate and continue to demonstrate our value to the DOE, our lawmakers and the public.

We have a clear vision for our future and you will hear more about how we, together and individually, will achieve those goals in the weeks and months to come. In the meantime, I ask you to continue to keep up the good work. I'll be working with the other lab directors in the coming days to ensure Congress is well aware of the important research we do, and the negative impact to innovation in the United States if budget cuts similar to ones proposed last week are passed. I and your ALDs will keep you updated about the budget process as we know more.

—Persis Drell
SLAC Today, February 15, 2011