Trump Administration Preps Plan for Huge Cuts to Department of Energy

Jan. 23, 2017

By: Michael Feldman

As Donald Trump takes the reins of power, his administration is outlining a plan that would entail significant cuts in US federal spending. One of the agencies targeted is the Department of Energy, which, if the report is true, could have its scientific research and computing budget sliced in half.

News of the possible cuts comes from The Hill, whose reporters learned that individuals from the Trump transition team met with White House staffers ahead of the January 20 inauguration to outline the new administration’s plans for dramatically reducing federal spending. In aggregate, the plan is to reduce all of federal spending by more than $1 trillion per year. The specifics of the plan are apparently derived from a blueprint from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that helped staff the Trump transition team.

Most federal agencies are impacted to one degree or another, including the Department of Energy. According to The Hill report, the DOE cuts would be especially significant to the Office of Science’s Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR) program, which manages the majority of the supercomputing research and infrastructure procurement at the agency. From the report:

“At the Department of Energy, it would roll back funding for nuclear physics and advanced scientific computing research to 2008 levels, eliminate the Office of Electricity, eliminate the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and scrap the Office of Fossil Energy, which focuses on technologies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.”

ASCR’s mission is to “discover, develop, and deploy computational and networking capabilities to analyze, model, simulate, and predict complex phenomena important to the Department of Energy.” The program also drives much of the exascale computing research effort for the entire federal government. That activity is now encompassed under the Exascale Computing Project (ECP), although responsibility for the program is shared with the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). It’s not clear if the DOE cuts to be proposed would impact the NNSA as well.

However, the more specific recommendation to reduce ASCR to 2008 levels would cuts its funding almost in half. In FY 2016, the enacted funding for the program was $621 million and the requested funding for the program for FY 2017 is a little over $663 million. In FY 2008, ASCR’s funding allocation was just shy of $342 million. It’s hard to imagine that axing $300 million from the planned budget wouldn’t severely impact all of the pre-exascale supercomputing plans at the Office of Science. That would likely include the three CORAL supercomputers scheduled to be installed between 2017 and 2018.

It’s notable that in 2008, there was no Exascale Computing Project, which is expected to receive official funding allocations for the first time in FY 2017. The funding request for the program in FY 2017 is $154 million, which would represent about half of the ASCR budget if it was rolled back to 2008 levels. The ECP recently revised the program's timeline that would enable the first US exascale supercomputer to be installed in 2021 rather than in 2023. The move was viewed as an attempt to align the US effort with that of China and Japan. It’s anyone’s guess how ASCR would propel the ECP effort forward after such dramatic cuts.

According the The Hill write-up, a document being devised by the new Trump team outlining this new “skinny budget” in detail is expected to be made public within the first 45 days of the administration. At that point the ball would be in Congress’s court if they wanted to pursue legislation that implemented the proposed cuts.