US Federal Budget Process

Posted by Rezwan Razani on Apr 26, 2012 at 07:50 AM
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In February, the US President issued the FY2013 budget, which was an utter disaster for the US fusion program

Fusion supporters:  Were you thrilled when you heard the House Restored the Fusion Budget?  Were you crushed when you heard the Senate kept it at the initial level?  Welcome to bungee budget!

This is why it is vitally important to keep sending letters to Congress and the Senate.  Don’t get distracted by budget highs and lows.  Keep building and broadening the base of support.
« See action steps & links on left.

Getting to a final budget is a multi-step process with plenty of politics and bargaining yet to come!  Fasten your seatbelts.

I’m told the Senate markup of the energy budget just repeats the President’s DOE proposal. Tomorrow they present it formally. But on Tues she [Feinstein] presented it and did not even mention fusion… Will know more Thurs.  In any case, there is no overall budget bill now before either chamber, and there may never be one before the election.
- an Insider, 4/25/2012

The Budget Process

The gains recommended by the House Appropriations Committee may indeed prevail, but there are many more hurdles that must be overcome.  Here is a summary (modified from FY2012, corrections to this year’s process appreciated):

  1. The President submitted the FY2013 budget ($398M), which cuts $48M from the domestic fusion budget to fund the increased ITER treaty obligation.
  2. In response to these deep cuts, the Holt/Bilbray “Dear Colleague” letter requesting $447M is sent to the House Appropriations committee (pink point on graph). The House Appropriations Committee deliberates.  [Update 4/18/2012:  House Appropriations issued markup of the bill to restore fusion funding, increasing it to $475M.]
  3. The House of Representatives needs to vote to approve an overall budget bill.
  4. In parallel (apologies that it does not appear that way on the graph), the budget also goes to the Senate, starting with a Senate Appropriations Committee approval process. The Senate Markup repeats the DOE/President’s budget, keeping fusion at $398M.
  5. The Senate needs to vote on their version of the budget.
  6. If there is no agreement at this point, or if different versions emerge, it will have to go to conference with the bill passed by the House of Representatives to resolve the differences in the two bills before a final vote for passage in both houses.  Negotiations are required and this process is uncertain.
  7. What happened in 2012 was that the government went on “continuing resolution” (which holds spending at previous year levels) until overall federal budget deficit issues were resolved.  Something like that could happen here as well;
  8. Last year, the budget was finally resolved when Congress passed a single “omnibus” Fy 2012 federal budget instead of a large number of individual bills. Something like this could happen again for FY2013

Note the small yellow points on the graph above.  These correspond to “Experimental Plasma Research” formerly known as “Innovative Confinement Concepts.”  This is the line item for fusion alternatives.  FY2011 had them at $24 Million, FY2012 took them down to $11M.  this budget takes them down to $10.5 Million.  A boost in this number would bring a lot more vitality and diversity to the fusion program at very little cost in the larger scope of the budget.

Senate Markup

The Senate markup repeats the President’s request for $398M (excerpt below, formatted for clarity.  See entire markup - pdf).  This has not been voted on by the full Senate. 

As noted below, the Senate sees lack of strategic direction as an issue of concern.  Similar issues are raised in this exchange between Feinstein and Chu regarding fusion.  See also the discussion on Office of Science Priorities.


The Committee recommends $398,324,000 as requested for Fusion Energy Sciences. Within these funds, the Committee recommends $150,000,000 as requested for the U.S. contribution to ITER.

Similar to the Nuclear Physics program, the Committee is concerned by the lack of strategic direction for the fusion energy program. The Committee understands that the budget request provides a $45,000,000 increase to the U.S. ITER contribution but even with the increase, the U.S. contribution is still $50,000,000 short of the project plan.

The Committee also understands that the increase to the U.S. contribution came at the expense of the domestic fusion program. The Committee is concerned that additional cuts to the domestic fusion energy program may undermine U.S. advances in fusion and the U.S. ability to take advantage of scientific developments of the ITER project. The Office of Science believes that it can take advantage of international programs and facilities to build and maintain U.S. expertise in fusion energy sciences. However, a February 2012 Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee report cautioned that international facilities in Asia and Europe will not be operating for several more years and international collaborations cannot come at the expense of a domestic research program that can benefit from ITER.

The Committee directs the Office of Science to assess the impact to the domestic fusion energy sciences workforce and the ability of the United States to take advantage of ITER to advance fusion energy before recommending any further cuts to the domestic program.

The Committee also directs the Office of Science to assess alternatives to participating in the ITER project, including reducing contributions to the project, and the impact of withdrawing from the project, if necessary, to maintain domestic capabilities.

Further, the Committee directs the Office of Science to include a project data sheet with details of all project costs until the completion of the project for ITER in the fiscal year 2014 budget submission.

The Committee understands that DOE provides funding for ITER as a Major Item of Equipment rather than a line item construction project, which would be consistent with DOE Order 413.3B. However, the Committee feels that a multi-billion dollar project, especially of this scale and complexity, should be treated as a construction project and follow DOE Order 413.3B guidance.

Speaking of strategic plans and alternatives, participate in the ASP fusion planning event, June 2012.


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