Increasing Costs, Competition May Hinder U.S. Position of Leadership in High Energy Physics

EMD-80-58: Published: Sep 16, 1980. Publicly Released: Sep 16, 1980.

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The United States has led the world in high energy physics research; other countries are now challenging that lead. The Federal Government provides nearly all of the funding of the U.S. high energy physics efforts. The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has oversight responsibility over all federally funded basic science and works with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in developing the basic science budgets. The National Science Foundation (NSF) is the principal Federal agency for the support of basic research across all fields of science and science education. The Department of Energy (DOE) has the primary responsibility for implementing a sound national high energy physics program.

Whether the funding of high energy physics research is appropriately balanced with support of research in other basic science fields is not clear. DOE funding is based on an agreement with OMB to annually fund high energy physics at a constant level, which is the minimum amount the physics community believes is needed to maintain a viable program with adequate diversity. The funding has not been based on a comprehensive plan for maintaining a leadership position. GAO believes the program has been faced with trying to do more than available funds would allow. DOE has not formally prepared a comprehensive plan which is consistent with the agreed upon funding level. The program has been emphasizing the development and construction of accelerators. Other key program elements have been inadequately funded. This may have detrimental effects on long-term accelerator technology and the participation of the brightest and most talented U.S. scientists. GAO believes that the objective of maintaining a world leadership position, the plan for achieving this objective, and the level of funding need to be examined in the light of the program's needs and importance relative to other basic sciences. A given policy and strategy should not be pursued unless the amount of funds needed are made available. Congress could provide valuable input into the final determination of what the overall objectives of the program should be, as well as the appropriate strategies and necessary funding levels.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Director of OSTP should assemble a work group to conduct a study to determine the appropriate level for funding the U.S. high energy physics program taking into consideration the program's needs and importance relative to other basic sciences. Based on the results of such a study, the Director should prepare a policy paper setting forth the objectives of the U.S. program, a strategy for achieving such objectives, and the appropriate annual funding levels for carrying out the strategy. Such funding levels should consider projected amounts for major functions such as construction, accelerator operations, accelerator research and development, equipment, equipment research and development, and physics research. The Director should consult with the appropriate oversight committees of Congress for their views and input in helping to formulate the policy. The Directors of OMB and NSF, and the Secretary of Energy should fully cooperate in the study. The Secretary of Energy should formally institute the development of near-, mid-, and long-range plans on a periodic basis. These plans should be submitted to Congress for its information and use in carrying out its budgetary and oversight responsibilities.

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