September 21, 2003

Washington, DC

Present: Ahearne, Berry, Bienenstock, Cahn, Clark, Marvin Cohen, Morrel Cohen, Cox, Eisenberger, Evenson, Fetter, Levi, Plapp, Primack, Quinn, Sarachik, Shotts, Stephan, Tsang, von Hippel, Zinck

Absent: Block, Goldman, Richter, Schuller

APS Staff: Franz, Lubell, Park, Pierson, Slakey, Victoria

Guests: George Atkinson, Science & Technology Adviser to the Secretary of State
George Crabtree, Associate Chair, BES Hydrogen Study
Fred Lamb, Chair, BPI Study (joined by phone)
Robert Socolow, Member, NAS Hydrogen Study (joined by phone)


  • January 25, 2004
  • March 28, 2004

Ahearne called the meeting to order at 8:30 AM. The minutes for the March 30, 2002 meeting were approved with minor changes.

Washington Report: All 13 appropriations bills have passed the House, but only four have passed both houses and have been signed by the President. It is unlikely that all 13 will be passed before the November recess. An omnibus bill to cover the others is the probable outcome. The budget deficit for FY 2004 is predicted to be about $600 billion.

NSF seems to be in the best position of all with a 6% increase in the House and 4% increase in the Senate for research related activities. The DOE Office of Science research programs received a 3.8% increased in the House bill and 1.2% in the Senate bill. Sen. Domenici gave high priority to New Mexico laboratories and committee members’ water projects, but he hopes that the plus up for science can be increased in conference.

The DOE Basic Energy Sciences base programs received a sizable increase because the construction budget for Spallation Neutron Source is declining.

The NASA budget is essentially flat funded, but Congress probably will revise it, pending on the decisions on the shuttle program. The space science budget will go up by about 12%, but the Human Space Flight program budget will decline by 6% in the House bill and by 3.5% in the Senate.

The DOD budget, which has already been enacted, contains a big increase for R&D, but the new money is directed into development. Basic and applied research programs show a decrease of about 5%.

The DHS, in its second year of existence, would see its R&D budget rise significantly. The NIH community has been pushing for a 8% budget increase, but may not get it. The House has appropriated a 2.7% increase, so a final percentage increase above 3% will be difficult to achieve. NIST had a 8% budget increase in the House bill.

Lubell noted that Congress is beginning to give the NIH budget greater scrutiny, as one of the consequences of its large size and the projected $600 billion deficit for FY04.

EPA emission changes: Ahearne pointed out that in the past, EPA has been concerned with greenhouse gasses but now is proposing changes that seem to contradict the Clean Air Act.
Lubell said that members of Congress are not very supportive of the Administration now that the president’s ratings have plummeted. The country, in general, is pro-environment, he said, and Congress will speak up against the Administration on this issue, if necessary.

Competition for National Labs: Secretary Abraham has announced his intentions to put UC’s Los Alamos Laboratory contract up for bid when it comes up for renewal in 2005. The university has not decided yet to enter the competition.

The House approved HR 2754, and issued the H108-212 report, stipulating competition procedures. A Blue Ribbon Commission will provide the Energy Secretary with guidance in the process.

Berry senses that there is a clear division between the people applying a business model to the weapons labs and the people who are concerned with the health of the defense program. He said that the morale in Los Alamos has reached an all-time-low because of issues such as uncertainty in the future contract and retirement benefits. Berry believes that POPA should work on a petition to make the health of the labs and weapons programs a central issue in the bid process.

Ahearne explained that the purpose of the discussion is to look into the possibility of APS taking action on this issue, probably by producing a letter from the APS president to bring people’s attention to this matter. Eisenberger cautioned members that this is a matter of management, not values, and to act accordingly.

Primack said that the general view among the faculty at UC is that this action was taken to punish UC, and that the faculty will vote against investing money to compete.

Bienenstock said that the issue is not constrained to Los Alamos and Sandia but includes other labs such as SLAC, PPPL and LBNL. The concerns are that competition would be expensive for these labs, and a change in management would change the essential nature of those labs. He said that in a meeting with Kevin Cook, Professional Staff, Energy and Water Development subcommittee, they discussed the possibility of DOE choosing to extend rather than compete. SLAC representative propose that, in that case, the National Science and Technology Council would have to review the decision and reverse it if the Council failed to concur with the extension.

Members agreed with the need for an APS letter that would voice concern with the privatization of labs. Lubell cautioned the committee on moving against Rep. Hobson and Sen. Domenici on this issue, and interfering with the work that APS is doing with them on the budget.

Instead of a letter, Berry proposed a visit with Hobson to discuss the importance of keeping labs in hands of people who will enhance science instead of looking for profit.

A group headed by Tsang worked during lunch on drafting such letter.

Ethics: Franz said that the ethics task force has been working on a final report to be presented at the Council meeting. They have collected information through several surveys and are analyzing the data to layout the recommendations to be included in the report.

In surveys, post-docs indicated the need for a statement on the mistreatment of subordinates. Franz said that POPA will need to get involved in this issue in the future.

The report will also refer to ethics education and to electronic collection and storage of data.
A member of the task force may come to the January POPA meeting.

Nuclear Testing: Slakey said that there were four main debating points in Congress on the issue of nuclear testing: whether to fund research on new nuclear weapons; Advanced Concepts; enhanced test readiness; and existing ban on research on low yield weapons (5 kilotons or less).

The House eliminated funding on the three budget items (about ten million dollars each), and eliminated the ban on research but maintained the ban on development of low yield weapons. The Senate fully funded these items and eliminated the ban on research but the Pentagon would have to seek authorization from Congress if it decides to develop low yield weapons. The primary area of debate in committee conference, then, will be that of low yield weapons.

The Washington Office worked with members of Congress on the language for test readiness, put together a three part briefing series on stockpile stewardship on the Hill, and did a briefing chapter for the Nuclear Threat Reduction Initiative campaign on stockpile stewardship.

Perpetual motion machines: Park said that the state of Washington and Maine took action against Dennis Lee on the issue of selling dealerships for perpetual motion machines. The APS statement on perpetual motion machines had a great impact on federal judges. Judges are now delivering rulings based on the APS statement.

Education: The APS Executive Board rejected the Physics for Everyone statement in their last meeting. Bienenstock said that APS Executive .Board was concerned that there is no reliable evidence to justify endorsing the ideology of Physics First.

The issue has been dropped by the committee and no statement will be issued.

Reactions to Boost Phase Study: Lamb explained to the committee the latest criticism to the BPI report. The Missile Defense Agency wrote him a letter saying that even though they did not have any technical criticism, the basic assumptions of the report were overly pesimistic.

In August, he was invited to a National Defense University debate on the BPI study. Dick Garwin responded to Lamb’s presentation and the discussion went into a great deal of technical details. One of the issues that came up was whether the intercepts causing a short fall would put populated areas in any danger.

Hydrogen: With the Hydrogen Initiative being advanced by the Administration, the POPA Energy subcommittee saw the possibility of contributing to the debate by generating a POPA hydrogen study. Eisenberger gave some background information (handout given at the meeting) and Crabtree gave a presentation on the basic research necessary to develop the hydrogen economy (presentation emailed to members).

Slakey said that there are significant advances needed in basic research for the Hydrogen Initiative to succeed, particularly in three areas: production, source and use. APS could interest members of Congress by working with the Renewables Caucus to inject basic research into the production area.

Socolow was particularly concerned with the lack of communication between the members of the NAS and BES studies. He said that a POPA study should address the importance of the distribution issue and that other critical issues are hydrogen safety, combustion and storage.

Eisenberger explained that the project will begin by doing a system analysis of the hydrogen issue using the existing reports and produce a study that will be used as an extended document to inform the scientific community of opportunities available to physicists who want to contribute to this area of work. The study would also be used as an advocacy tool for funding basic research in the subject.

Lubell said that the BES report is not an easy read for people who manage the budget on the Hill, so POPA should produce an easy-to-read document that Congress staff can consult. A short timetable (no later than March 2004) is needed if it is to be used as an advocacy tool.

Franz clarified to the committee that this would be a POPA study, while the BPI report was an APS study. POPA has a 2003 budget of $15,000 for this kind of projects and the same amount was approved for next year.

Action: A group formed by Eisenberger (chair), including Clark, Cox, Evenson, Levi, Slakey, Zinck, with Socolow and Crabtree as consultants, will work on the report and have a draft for the January meeting.

After lunch, Atkinson made general comments about science in the State Department.

Modern Pit Facility: Fetter explained the issue and said that the Nuclear Posture Review identifies the need for a larger facility to support the nuclear warheads stockpile. He gave some reasons why APS should get involved on this issue: The construction of pits sends the message that the US wants to maintain a large nuclear arsenal; the possibility for building new types of warheads; and financial considerations. APS could endorse a smaller pit production capability or advocate for suspending a decision until the lifetime of pits is better understood.

Ahearne proposed a paper on the issue, rather that a statement.

Action: Fetter, Von Hippel and Slakey will develop a paper.

Visas: Members are concerned with the lack of attention the Administration is paying to the visa issue. It was proposed that APS take immediate action, maybe in conjunction with other organizations, to substantiate the unquestionable risk of international isolation if no action is taken.
Franz gave the link to AIP’s statistics on the visa problem:

Action: A task force was formed, including Bienenstock, Primack and Shotts. They will work on developing a strategy in coordination with PPC.

Listserver and online voting: Tsang announced that on the APS website, the listserver site is ready for online voting. The site will also function as an archive to keep a record of the voting process.

Franz suggested an email alert system to make the site more effective.

Physics and the Public: Evenson said the subcommittee is still exploring how to better provide science information to science journalists. He reminded members of the need for contributions to the APS website database on possible speakers, images, or any other material for science lectures or courses.

Eisenberger distributed a proposal for the hydrogen paper, indicating possible cost, time line, and logistics. The motion to approve the proposal was passed unanimously.

Tsang introduced an outline for a presidential letter to be sent to the Secretary of Energy and some members of the House, voicing APS concern with the competition of national labs process.

Action: A draft letter will be circulated by email so members can contribute to the contents of the letter. There will be one week for discussion, and one week to finalize letter.

New Business:
Sarachik reported to the committee that the “Statement Against the Call to Boycott Israeli Scientists” was finalized. It was approved by the Council and is now on the APS website.

The next two meeting were set for January 25 and March 28, 2004.

Tsang updated the committee on the statement regarding the freedom of scientific communication that will be sent to the Council. An extensive discussion on the issue followed.

Action: Tsang will edit the statement and set it up on the website for discussion.

The meeting was adjourned at 3:00 PM