Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Budget Problems facing the U.S.

Budget Problems facing the U.S.

If it seems that the news lately has been grim coming out of the U.S…it is because it is. In a talk yesterday by the director of Fermilab Pier Oddone laid out some very bleak circumstances for the coming year that Fermilab and many scientific ventures face.
See Pier’s talk here (
The short of it is the budget put forward by the Republican congress would slash domestic spending in view of the fact that the U.S would see 1.5 trillion dollar deficit in Fiscal Year 2011. Now that being said, these proposals actually only effect < 20% of the total budget and definitely don’t fix the total problem.

However, the impact would be very real! Since the U.S government has be acting on a continuing resolution (basically saying keep 2010 spending and appropriations since Congress didn’t pass a new budget), getting a 20% cut now actually amounts to a 40% cut for the rest of the year! This fact has DIRE impact on Fermilab

As Pier said in his talk
Impossible to accommodate such cuts without major disruptions:
1) Stop operation of all accelerators immediately
2) Slow down projects to barely keep-alive levels
3) Prepare layoffs of 20% of the staff or 400 employees
4) Furlough staff for roughly two of the remaining six months

This coming on the heels of the announcement that there would be no extension to the running of the Tevatron in 2011 means that things would slow down in the US High Energy Physics area very quickly with no clear signs of when they will pick up again.
Frankly, for a government that is purporting not wanting to miss “their sputnik moment” the idea of drastically cutting funding to fundamental research seems just plain stupid! Innovation does not happen in a climate where people are worried if the lab they work at is going to be there tomorrow…nor will “job creation” and “a balanced budget” happen by cutting spending to a small fraction of the overall budget that actually generates jobs and opportunities in the United States. The best quote I’ve heard to describe this sort of approach to budgetary problem solving was in an article in the Washington Post (linked here)

“Making the government lean by cutting the most defensible (and productive) federal spending is akin to making an overweight aircraft fly by removing the engine!”

So what do we do? Write your congressman/congresswomen and tell them that gutting science is no way to the future! There are instructions on the webpage of how to get this letter written. I encourage all readers to write to help save such great scientific programs such as Fermilab!

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