Statement Of Sen. Alexander - Energy Committee Hearing On DOE's Budget

Posted on March 3, 2005

Senator Lamar Alexander: I have what I hope will be a constructive suggestion and a couple of questions about specific things. I know you were not part of the making up of this budget, and I am a supporter of the President's effort to bring some fiscal discipline to the federal government, but in line with some of the other comments that have been made, I think it would be a grave error for the United States to limit our spending in a way that keeps us from having economic growth. And more than half of our new jobs since World War II have come from advances in science and technology. When I was governor, I used to work hard to restrain Medicaid spending, so we could invest more in Centers of Excellence at the universities, and in colleges, and in schools, and in research. And I would say we should be doing that here. We were ambushed as a country by terrorism; we're about to be ambushed by countries who want our jobs and our money, and I don't want to see our budget-cutting activities over the next five years get us on a glide path that under funds our ability to grow new jobs. And I know you don't either. So what I'm suggesting is that within the counsels of the administration, I hope you, and the Secretary of Education and others suggest, for example, that if we're going to only restrain the growth of Medicaid by $12 billion, I mean we're going to spend $1.2 trillion on it over the next 10 years, we're going to restrain its growth by $12 billion over the next 10 - let's restrain it more and put more of that money into investments and research. The Office of Science's own 20-year plan, developed by this administration, would double the funding for the physical sciences in the next five years, yet this budget takes it down. So we'll do our part on this side - there are a number of senators on both sides of the aisle who want to see us make the proper investments in science and technology. And I'm just encouraging within the administration while you're making up the next budget to help with that. Now are here two specific questions. Last year Senator Bingaman and I - I'll give him the credit - he encouraged me to go to Japan to see the Earth Simulator, and I did. As a result, all of us working together, we set about to recapture the international lead in high-speed advanced computing - in the Office of Science's plan, the number one domestic priority, second only to the international fusion project - yet this budget does not adequately fund our effort to try to recapture the lead in international computing, yet we're starting two new programs in computing. So my question is, why would we under fund this effort to help us get to 100 teraflops by 2006 in high-speed advanced computing, why would we under fund that in order to start two news programs in computing? Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman: First of all, this is one of those cases, sir, where the proposal in the budget this year is equal to or greater than the proposal in the budget last year. And that it was not one of trying to under fund. We've tried to make some tough choices, but we are continuing to fund the supercomputer at the level that we had proposed to the Congress last year and is something that I am very enthused about personally. I will also tell you, sir, that you will certainly have my - as you know from when you and I visited in your office - you will certainly have my support. I'm a great believer in science, and I think that's an important component of this department. We are, however, in very stringent and difficult times from a budgetary standpoint. Senator Alexander: I understand that, but I think it's important, as I said earlier, that we - we've got a big budget, and the one thing we don't want to do in the next five years is to under fund our ability to keep our standard of living. We're all giving speeches about that and beginning to understand it better right now, but the rest of the world understands we produce a third of the money for only 5 to 6 percent of the population, and if we sit here and under fund science, technology and education without restraining Medicaid, then we're making a bad mistake. My last question is: you were asked a question in your testimony in the House about the possibility of instead of the Department of Energy regulating the science labs, such as the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, might not it be better for OSHA and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to do that sort of regulation - might not they be more suited for that regulation and might they not be more efficient in that kind of regulation of safety and health issues at your 10 science laboratories. I was wondering if you've had a chance to think about it since then? Secretary Bodman: Yes sir, I have had a chance to think about it, and my first priority will be to improve the safety and security powers of the individual laboratories themselves. Before we start seeking out help, I'd rather make an effort to see what we could do to improve the situation ourselves, so I would respectfully, at least at this point in time, like to focus on that. I think we can improve, and I would like to see us try. I became quite confident in visiting Los Alamos and Sandia last week, that we will be able to continue to make progress there. Sometimes sir, the appearance of help in the form of additional regulators is not what we need. What we need to do is manage what we have today better, and that's where I'd like to put my effort. Senator Alexander: Well, I didn't mean additional, I meant in lieu of at the science labs. Thank you Mr. Chairman.