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FY24 Budget Outlook: DOE Office of Science

JUL 28, 2023
Appropriators’ fiscal year 2024 budget proposals for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science fall well short of the Biden administration’s request for a 9% increase. Consequently, a major proposed expansion of fusion R&D programs is unlikely to materialize this year and certain other activities are apt to be squeezed under tight program toplines.
Will Thomas
Spencer R. Weart Director of Research in History, Policy, and Culture

The $8.1 billion budget for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science is poised to remain steady in fiscal year 2024, with appropriators in the Republican-controlled House proposing flat funding and their colleagues in the Democrat-controlled Senate proposing a 4% increase. President Biden requested a 9% increase for the office in March, but the limits on federal spending he agreed to in May with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) have constrained what Congress can realistically provide.

With money tight, funding for some efforts is bound to come up short. It is already clear Congress will not follow through on a major expansion of the Fusion Energy Sciences program that was proposed in both the budget request and the CHIPS and Science Act. Funding is also likely to be less than envisioned for the new Energy Earthshot Research Centers, which the office is preparing to award as part of a department-wide focus on clean-energy technology.

Congress appears ready to mostly meet the requested amounts for major facility construction projects, which also received a major boost through last year’s Inflation Reduction Act. It remains to be seen how much will be provided for user facility operations after DOE significantly raised its request due to rising costs. Meanwhile, research funding could well end up squeezed under restricted program toplines as even the request proposed cuts in areas such as high energy physics.

The Biden administration’s request is detailed in its budget justification for the Office of Science, and Congress’ proposals are detailed in reports by House and Senate appropriators. Summary figures are collected in FYI’s Federal Science Budget Tracker .

Administration priorities

The Biden administration’s request includes initiatives that reflect its emphasis on mitigating climate change and promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion. However, House Republicans have targeted these same areas for cuts and are seeking to altogether bar DOE from implementing the administration’s Equity Action Plan and Justice40 initiative.

RENEW and FAIR. Under the Biden administration, the Office of Science has launched two major initiatives aimed at broadening participation in the sciences. RENEW, which issued its first awards last December, supports training opportunities for individuals at various stages of their education and career development who are “not currently well represented in the U.S. science and technology ecosystem.” FAIR, which opened its first awards competition earlier this year, is focused on building up research capacity and infrastructure at minority serving institutions and emerging research institutions. DOE aims to increase RENEW’s annual budget from $60 million to $107 million in fiscal year 2024 and FAIR’s from about $35 million to $49 million. While the Senate proposal expresses general support for the initiatives, the House proposal would defund both.

Energy Earthshot Research Centers. In January, DOE opened a competition for new research centers based at national labs with other institutions included as partners. Similar in structure to the existing Energy Frontier Research Centers, the new centers would conduct research relevant to meeting the cost and performance goals the department has set out for various clean energy technologies through its Energy Earthshots initiative. DOE anticipated each center will receive between $3 million and $5 million annually, with a total of $200 million provided over four years.

The department allocated $100 million to its Earthshots initiative this fiscal year and requested $175 million for fiscal year 2024, with an eye to increasing the overall number of centers it supports as well as funding research beyond the centers. However, the House proposal includes just $20 million for the initiative and the Senate proposal would direct DOE to allocate no more than $67 million.

Isotope R&D and Production program. DOE’s isotope program has become a high priority for both the Biden administration and Congress following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine because Russia is an important link in the supply chains for many high-value isotopes. Congress increased the program’s annual budget from $82 million to $109 million for fiscal year 2023 and provided it with $158 million through the Inflation Reduction Act. The administration is seeking $173 million for fiscal year 2024, and the House and Senate proposals call for $140 million and $151 million, respectively.

Key tension points in program funding

Fusion Energy Sciences. Fusion energy’s backers in Congress and the Biden administration aimed this year to increase the FES topline from $763 million to just over $1 billion. However, the House proposal would provide $778 million and the Senate proposal $792 million. The requested funding was primarily intended for creating new fusion R&D centers and scaling up the Milestone-Based Fusion Development Program, which provides payments to private fusion ventures as they achieve predetermined goals. DOE selected eight companies to participate in the program in May and requested $130 million for the program for fiscal year 2024. However, the House proposal includes only $35 million for the program while the Senate proposal would direct DOE to allocate at least $25 million to it.

Basic Energy Sciences. The Senate proposal would almost meet the administration’s request to increase BES funding from $2.53 billion to $2.69 billion, while the House proposal would provide $2.59 billion. Much of the request’s increase stems from proposals to raise the combined operating budgets for DOE’s X-ray light sources from $599 million to $704 million and the corresponding budgets for its neutron sources from $316 million to $373 million. DOE explains that it recently recalculated the costs of running these facilities, accounting for pressures such as inflation, rising user demand for remote access, and the work needed to transition upgraded facilities back into ordinary operations. It further states that even the higher budgets would only allow them to run at 90% of optimal operations. The Senate proposal would provide the requested amounts, but the House proposal would only meet the request for the neutron facilities while keeping funding for the light sources essentially flat.

Advanced Scientific Computing Research. The administration is seeking to increase the ASCR topline from $1.07 billion to $1.13 billion, but the House and Senate proposals are aligned in proposing a cut to about $1.02 billion. The proposed decreases partly relate to the denouement of the Exascale Computing Project as Argonne National Lab’s Aurora machine nears the start of operations , joining the Frontier machine at Oak Ridge National Lab. Associated requests for increased operating budgets for the computing facilities at Argonne and Oak Ridge are partially met in the Senate proposal and completely met in the House proposal. However, the House proposal rejects a request to increase ASCR’s research budget from $339 million to $412 million, instead allocating $295 million, and the Senate proposal would direct DOE to allocate at least $280 million. The research budget was $286 million in fiscal year 2022.

Biological and Environmental Research. The House proposal targets BER for a significant cut, seeking to roll its budget back from $909 million to $827 million, close to its fiscal year 2022 level. The administration has asked for $932 million, and the Senate proposal calls for $941 million. Notwithstanding the topline cut in the House proposal, it proposes flat funding of $65 million for the operating budget of the Environmental and Molecular Sciences Laboratory at Pacific Northwest National Lab, rejecting the administration’s proposed reduction to $50 million, close to its fiscal year 2022 funding level. The Senate proposal would direct DOE to allocate up to $65 million, giving the department flexibility to undershoot that amount.

Nuclear Physics. Funding for NP is poised to remain near-flat, with the administration requesting an increase from $805 million to $811 million and the Senate and House proposals respectively calling for $818 million and $800 million. The program is currently awaiting delivery of a new long-range plan from the Nuclear Science Advisory Committee, which will weigh in on priorities currently on the back burner , such as a large-scale experiment to try to establish the existence of the hypothesized neutrinoless double beta decay process.

High Energy Physics. There is general agreement that the HEP program should receive a modest funding boost, with the Senate proposal meeting the requested increase from $1.17 billion to $1.23 billion and the House proposal providing $1.19 billion. The administration has proposed rolling back some of the increases that certain research programs received in fiscal year 2023, accommodating a ramp up in funding for HEP’s flagship LBNF/DUNE neutrino project. The budgetary pressure that projects are placing on research funding in the HEP portfolio has been a point of tension for some years.

Flagship facility projects

A wide-view photograph of the LBNF caverns with construction equipment

The caverns that will house the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment are now more than 70% excavated. The experiment will be located a kilometer and a half beneath the surface at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in South Dakota to shield it from extraneous radiation as it analyzes a high-intensity neutrino beam generated at Fermilab 1,300 kilometers away.

(Ryan Postel / Fermilab)

LBNF/DUNE. Excavation at the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility’s Far Site in South Dakota is moving quickly toward completion and construction of the first Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment detector module that will be installed there has begun . Earlier this year, DOE formally approved a new cost range estimate for the project of $3.16 billion to $3.68 billion and is planning to establish precise baseline estimates for different components of the project as they are ready.

DOE has also set out a funding profile for the project that aims to enable the start of detector operations by 2029 and the start of operations for the project’s neutrino beam from Fermilab in 2031. For fiscal year 2024, that profile calls for an increase in the project’s annual budget from $180 million to $255 million. While the Senate proposal would provide the full amount, the House proposal includes only $225 million. Failing to meet the profile would court delays and increases in overall project cost. According to DOE, the $125 million that the Inflation Reduction Act provided to LBNF/DUNE last year served to prevent delays stemming from inflationary pressures on the project budget.

ITER. DOE has requested steady funding of $240 million for the ITER fusion facility under construction in France. The Senate proposal would provide that amount and the House proposal includes an additional $2 million. The ITER Organization is still assessing the consequences of various difficulties it has experienced, which are pushing the start of operations back by probably three or more years. It expects to solidify a new cost and schedule estimate by the end of 2024.

DOE is working on establishing a precise baseline estimate for the total U.S. contribution to the project. In its budget request, the department stated it planned to complete the estimate in 2023 and that it expected the cost would remain within the current $6.5 billion upper-bound estimate. Congress has appropriated $2.67 billion for ITER to date.

Electron-Ion Collider. Last year, strain on the EIC project at Brookhaven National Lab was relieved as it received $138 million from the Inflation Reduction Act as well as an ordinary appropriation of $70 million. It is poised to receive $98 million in fiscal year 2024 as preparations begin for the start of construction following the shutdown of its predecessor facility, the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider. DOE expects the project’s total cost will fall between $1.70 billion and $2.80 billion, with a provisional point estimate of $2.42 billion.

Facility upgrade projects

Owing in part to Inflation Reduction Act funds, the Office of Science’s portfolio of facility upgrade projects is in a strong position, with many at or near the conclusion of their funding profiles. The House and Senate proposals both include almost all of the funding requested for these projects.

Advanced Photon Source. The APS facility at Argonne National Lab is currently in a year-long shut down for installation of an $815 million upgrade that has already been fully funded.

Advanced Light Source. The ALS facility at Berkeley Lab will receive $57 million in fiscal year 2024 for its own major upgrade, completing its $590 million funding profile well ahead of installation, which is expected to take place in 2026.

Linac Coherent Light Source II. The new LCLS-II X-ray free electron laser facility at SLAC is expected to achieve its “first light” milestone in September. Funding for a follow-on upgrade will ramp up from $90 million to $120 million and the total cost is expected to be $710 million. The annual budget for a separate project to upgrade the Matter in Extreme Conditions (MEC) end station at the facility is set to remain steady at $10 million. That project is still in its early planning stages and its overall cost is expected to be between $264 million and $461 million.

A scientist using a tweezers to adjust a sample

Beamline lead scientist Christie Nelson works with a diffractometer located at National Synchrotron Light Source II’s beamline 4-ID. NSLS-II currently operates 28 beamlines and is preparing to accelerate the construction of additional ones.

(Brookhaven National Lab)

National Synchrotron Light Source II. Brookhaven National Lab’s NSLS-II started science operations eight years ago, but only about half of its 60-beamline capacity has been built out. An ongoing $95 million project to add three beamlines is set to receive a final appropriation of $20 million in fiscal year 2024. DOE has requested almost $7 million to kick off another project to build about 12 additional beamlines, which is expected to cost between $350 million and $500 million altogether. The House proposal meets the request, but the Senate proposal declines to assign a construction line item to the project, providing only $4 million for early planning.

Spallation Neutron Source. A power upgrade to the SNS facility at Oak Ridge National Lab will receive $16 million, the last installation in its $272 million funding profile. SNS is already achieving new world-record power levels and will soon go offline for nearly a year ahead of the upgrade’s completion. Funding for the facility’s Second Target Station will ramp up from $32 million to $52 million. That larger project is still in its early phases and DOE anticipates it will cost between $1.8 billion and $3 billion in total, with a provisional point estimate of $2.24 billion.

High Flux Isotope Reactor. DOE is seeking to ramp funding up from $3 million to $13 million for a project to replace the pressure vessel of the HFIR facility at Oak Ridge National Lab. The House proposal would provide the full request, but the Senate proposal would only provide $9 million, declining to assign construction funds to the project. DOE expects the project’s total cost will fall between $300 million and $550 million.

Proton Improvement Plan II. Funding for the PIP-II accelerator upgrade at Fermilab is set to remain steady at $125 million as requested. DOE’s estimate for the project’s total cost is $978 million.

Large Hadron Collider. DOE’s $260 million contribution to an upcoming accelerator upgrade at CERN’s LHC has now been completely funded. DOE has also funded more than half the cost of its contributions to associated detector upgrades, which are now expected to total about $400 million, and the department is requesting $36 million for them in fiscal year 2024.

Facility for Rare Isotope Beams. The Gamma-Ray Energy Tracking Array to be installed at FRIB at Michigan State University has received $58 million to date, all the funding it is expected to need. Another new component for FRIB, the High Rigidity Spectrometer, is still in its early design stages but received about a quarter of its total anticipated budget of $122 million through the Inflation Reduction Act. DOE has requested $6 million for fiscal year 2024, but the House proposal would provide $15 million. The Senate proposal does not specify a figure.

Nanoscale Science Research Centers. DOE is seeking a final installment of $5 million for an $80 million project to recapitalize equipment at its five NSRCs. The Senate proposal includes that funding while the House proposal does not specify an allocation for the project.

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