DOE Office of Science Would Have to Grapple with $900 Million Cut Under Trump Budget

March 16, 2017

By: Michael Feldman

The Trump administration outlined dramatic cuts for nearly every federal agency in order to pay for a $54 billion increase in Department of Defense spending. Those rollbacks would include a 20 percent annual reduction at the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science, which would almost certainly put the agency’s pre-exascale and exascale programs in jeopardy.

The $900 million Office of Science cut is apt to throw the US HPC research community into disarray, given that this agency is tasked with purchasing and maintaining the largest supercomputers in the nation that support open science research. It does the majority of this work under the Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR) project, which encompasses the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab in California, the Leadership Computing Facility at Oak Ridge National Lab in Tennessee, and Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois.

According to a report in Quartz, former Argonne director Peter Littlewood, summed it up like this: “It will cut science off at the knees,” he said, adding that Littlewood was specificially worried about exascale computing research. “It’s quite dangerous for the US to disable the science engine,” he noted.

As we reported in January, when rumors of Trump’s DOE cutbacks were first circulating, rollbacks of this magnitude would threaten the deployment of the three CORAL (supercomputers scheduled for installation at Oak Ridge, Argonne, and Lawrence Livermore in 2017 and 2018. Those contracts totalled $625 million.

Some of this CORAL money is coming from the DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which according to Trump’s budget outline is due for an 11 percent increase. That could add another $1.4 billion into the mix (although $120 million of that increase would be earmarked to restart licensing of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage facility in Nevada). Regardless, it’s not clear, if any of the additional NNSA funding could be used to shore up the Office of Science defunding. The NNSA supercomputers are not generally accessible to the open science community, since the agency’s mission is to maintain the country’s nuclear weapons arsenal and it uses most of its supercomputing capacity to support that work..

The other aspect to this that we noted back in January was that the funding request for the DOE’s Exascale Computing Project (ECP) in FY 2017 is $154 million. Most observers believe around $1 billion dollars will be needed to fully fund the project over the next six years or so, and that wouldn’t include actually purchasing the first exascale supercomputers for the DOE. Again, given the draconian cutbacks in the proposed budget, it’s hard to imagine where all of this money comes from.

Although none of this impacts HPC directly, other DOE budget cuts include a $2 billion reduction at the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the Office of Nuclear Energy, the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, and the Fossil Energy Research and Development. In addition, the Trump budget gets rid of ARPA-E, the Title 17 Innovative Technology Loan Guarantee Program, and the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program.

If there is any optimism to be had here it’s that the initial budget from the President never survives intact as it works its way through Congress. And there will almost certainly be some pushback from Democrats and Republicans, both of which have generally provided support for the DOE mission and federally funded science research. But there are no guarantees that the Republicans will continue to look out for the HPC and science community as it has in the past. These are not normal times for American politics.