Created by on 3/14/2011 12:00:00 AM

On March 3nd, Department of Energy (DoE) Secretary Dr. Steven Chu testified before the House Science and Technology Committee regarding the President’s fiscal year (FY) 2012 budget request. Throughout the hearing, Dr. Chu reiterated the importance of funding the Department’s Office of Science (DoE SC). In response to a question by Representative Judy Biggert (R-IL) about how he would prioritize research programs in light of current budgetary constraints, Dr. Chu specifically named DOE SC as one agency he hopes to protect. The Secretary also explained the distinct but complimentary roles of DOE SC and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. Although the focus of the hearing was the FY 2012 budget, Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) asked Dr. Chu to comment on the potential impacts of spending cuts, such as those contained in the House-passed FY 2011 “continuing resolution” (HR 1). In response, the Secretary said, “Many of the user facilities would have to be shut down for some time…a lot of graduate students and postdocs might have to be let go.” He went on to explain that young scientists and engineers would likely begin to abandon research careers if faced with an unreliable funding environment. Representative Brad Miller (D-NC) also referred to HR 1, questioning the validity of the argument that spending cuts to DoE are justified because the Department’s applied research “crowds out” the private sector.

This appearance followed Dr. Chu’s testimony at a FY 2012 DoE budget hearing held by the Senate Budget Committee on March 2nd. Committee members voiced concerns regarding the national debt, the development of new energy industries, and the nation’s dependency on imported energy. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) asked the Secretary to elaborate on the importance of investing early in emerging technologies. In addition, many Republican members appeared to be skeptical about the Administration’s spending priorities. Ranking Member Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) summarized this viewpoint in his opening statement. “Just because you call something an “investment” doesn’t make it so and certainly doesn’t make it a good investment,” he said.
As the Senate Budget Committee explored the DoE budget, the Veterans Affairs (VA) Committee convened a hearing to learn more about the Obama Administration’s request for veterans programs. In her opening statement, Senator Patty Murray (WA) highlighted what she called “the proposed weaker points in the budget” and indicated that she was “very worried that the $72 million reduction for Veterans Administration research funding would imperil some critical projects and shove physician researchers out the door.” Secretary Eric K. Shinseki’s testimony also mentioned the proposed cut for the research program, although he reassured the committee that the requested funds would be able to continue support for high priority projects including genomic medicine, point of care research, medical informatics, and information technology.