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DOE director of energy research visits Stanford

Martha Krebs, who heads the Department of Energy's $2.5 billion Office of Energy Research, delivered a message of cautious optimism about funding when she visited the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center and the campus on Monday, Jan. 13.

Funding for basic research at DOE in the 1998 budget will be basically the same as in the current fiscal year, with increases in a couple of priority areas, including the second-generation Internet project, Krebs told DOE's High Energy Physics Advisory Panel, which held a two-day meeting at SLAC.

After her presentation Krebs toured SLAC, had lunch with six faculty and staff women, met with faculty from the School of Engineering and toured the Gates Computer Science Building in the afternoon.

In the last year DOE has successfully conveyed to key people in the administration and Congress that the agency is a major source of support for basic research, Krebs said. Not only does DOE have the largest investment of any federal agency in research and development facilities, it also is the third-largest agency in terms of support for basic research and number five overall in its support of academic research.

Aided by a major lobbying effort by a number of scientific societies and users of DOE facilities, the office has successfully squeezed its basic research budget under an "umbrella agreement" between the administration and Congress that basic research will be level funded between now and the year 2003. Originally this agreement applied only to agencies like the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. As a result, Kreb's office faces the prospect of "flat-flat" funding rather than annual cutbacks of about 5 percent.

"I'm not comfortable yet, but I feel we have made incredible progress," she said.

With the improved funding outlook the department is ready to sign an international agreement to participate in the construction of a major new particle accelerator, called the large hadron collider, in Europe. "We don't see any overwhelming antagonism to the project in Congress, but we have to make a case for it," she said.

When asked the likelihood that this budget agreement will hold together, Krebs acknowledged that "there are no guarantees in any of this." But she said she remained hopeful because the department has successfully made its case with the Office of Management and Budget, which oversees the administration's budget preparation process. Also, the Republicans have said all along that they believe in basic research.

After Krebs' remarks, SLAC Director Burton Richter gave an overview of SLAC's budget and plans. SLAC accounts for all but about $10 million of the DOE money that comes to Stanford.

Although the overall DOE budget increased by 0.5 percent between 1996 and 1997, SLAC experienced a decline from $103.8 million to $100.9 million. This is the last year that SLAC will receive special construction money for the new collider called the Asymmetric B-Factory, which is scheduled to begin testing in 1998 and to goon line in 1999, Richter said.

He also described a long-term project, the next generation linear collider, that definitely would not fit under a flat budget scenario that Krebs described. It is a 30-mile-long, multi-billion-dollar machine that would complement the European large hadron collider and would require a similar international effort to make into a reality. SLAC researchers have been working for three years with scientists from the Japanese national laboratory on high energy physics, among others, on preliminary designs for the next generation linear collider. Assuming DOE agrees to support an advanced design effort beginning next year, Richter said that the project should be ready to seek funding by 2001.


By David F. Salisbury