The coming year - 2012

The coming year - 2012
January 17, 2011

It has not been our habit to use these articles to record the mundane passage of time, the annual holidays, the turn of the fiscal year or, in general, the turn of the calendar year. On the other hand, we are about to start a calendar year with a budget for the rest of the fiscal year already decided, at least at the higher levels. Just before the end of the year, Congress passed, and the President signed, the legislation determining the Fiscal Year 2012 budgets. In turn, the agencies have been working hard to translate this legislation into detailed numbers for us to work with. For us, the actual numbers are a little sobering. So, I wanted to say a few words.

At a high level, the Office of Nuclear Physics received a budget not greatly different from that in 2011, at $550 million. However, two key projects within the office, our own 12 GeV Upgrade Project and the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB) at the National Superconducting Cyclotron Lab at Michigan State University, were looking for increases to match their construction project profiles. In our case, because of peculiarities in the way the stimulus (ARRA) funding was distributed in 2009, our requested increase for the 12 GeV Project was from $36 million to $66 million. That for FRIB was from $12 million to $30 million. In fact what Congress dictated was less than these numbers, $50 million and $22 million, respectively. So though smaller than hoped for, the increase in project work in nuclear physics is $24 million.

What does this mean for us? Nothing is yet set in stone, but we can make some general remarks.

First, with respect to the 12 GeV project, our plans will be significantly curtailed. Even the most prudent and conservative project schedule cannot simply absorb a shortfall in funding of $16 million without some adverse effects. A major component of the plans for this year had to do with the long shutdown, often called the 12MSD for 12-month shutdown. So, an immediate thought is that “Long” may indeed be a better name than 12 months; our funding will not support as aggressive a posture with respect to the shutdown as we had hoped. We may need to extend the shutdown by a few months. But schedule is very important, and we want to move forward as fast as the funding permits to realize the 12 GeV scientific capability.

Second, the level of the nuclear physics budget and the need for it to support construction means that operating dollars across the whole of the department will need to be reduced. We are no exception to that, which means that 2012 will be challenging. However, we believe we will be able to complete the last tranche of 6 GeV running. The recovery of the machine after the recent six-month shutdown was excellent - all we could have hoped for. Both Q-weak in Hall C and HDice in Hall B were in production before the end-of-year holidays and, following that pause, they are again in production mode. We are also on track to bring on the Hall A experiments in February. All these experiments are important and, to ensure the maximum possibility for success, they really need the run time through to May 18. Nevertheless, the reduced level of FY12 funding will likely require that we impose austerity in several areas to achieve these goals. We will try to make any strictures we need as sensible (from the point of view of the overall lab program) as possible, but we will need your support in this.

On the third front, our Science Laboratory Infrastructure TEDF project will receive its requested funding level. That project is looking at its first completion milestone (CD4A) in the next couple of months. The new building is almost ready for occupants, and the remaining work will concentrate on the Test Lab extension.

The final component in how we execute the year is much more complex. It has to do with the prospects for 2013, 2014 and the out years. On Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day, we will present our budget briefing to the Office of Nuclear Physics. In principle, this is the kick-off for the eventual 2014 President’s budget request, but in reality it is also the forum in which we say in detail what the budget permits us to do in 2012, and what the President’s budget request for 2013 will permit. For example, what the 12 GeV Upgrade Project can do will depend on whether the $16 million missing from 2012 will be “returned” in full or in part in 2013, 2014 or later. The contents of the President’s request are a closely guarded secret until he makes his speech later this month. So, the Office of Nuclear Physics tries to put together hypothetical guidance and we try to assess what we could do if it were to turn into reality. Setting this guidance is a difficult process which tries to balance a number of things. They have been working hard and yesterday morning I received the e-mail with our instructions. Tomorrow, we will open the box and get to work on three different scenarios.

This missive has turned out to be a little more technical and detailed than I had hoped, so let me try to end with some perspective. We will receive funding in 2012 that will provide us with the resources to execute our 2012 experimental program at the level we have planned with some reductions elsewhere. We will receive funding for our 12 GeV Upgrade Project that will challenge us to move things along as close to the schedule as we can and embark on a Long Shutdown that will make major inroads in the installation work for the new Jefferson Lab 12 GeV era.

We have our work cut out for us in 2012.