May 2010

Committee Considers Role of Basic Science at DOE

“We are all on the same page,” Gordon said, emphasizing that the members agreed that the primary responsibility of the Office of Science should be basic science. At Gordon’s suggestion, the committee adopted Ehlers’ amendment and committed to revisit the issue before the legislation is considered by the full committee.

Other members expressed concern that excitement over the Advanced Research Projects Agency— Energy, known as ARPA-E, might divert resources away from basic science research in the Office of Science.

U.S. Rep. Bob Inglis, R-S.C., introduced an amendment that would have prevented budget increases at ARPA-E unless the Office of Science also received an increase during the same year.

But Gordon said much of the research done at ARPA-E is basic science and cautioned against tying the fortunes of one agency to that of another.

“We still are seeing generous growth” at the Office of Science despite funding ARPA-E’s programs, Baird said.

Although Biggert expressed her support, the committee rejected Inglis’ amendment.

During the hearing, the subcommittee considered three sections of legislation that eventually will become part of the final America COMPETES bill. The sections would reauthorize research components of the Department of Energy, including the Office of Science and ARPA-E.

Two other subcommittee hearings are expected on sections of COMPETES before the full committee considers the entire bill at the end of April.

Text of the legislation considered at the March 25 hearing is available on the House Science and Technology Committee’s Web site. You can find more information about recent hearings related to the America COMPETES Act in the April edition of ASBMB Today.

Kyle M. Brown ( is an ASBMB science policy fellow.


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5/4/2010--I am an old guy who was fortunate enough to receive very generous support for research in molecular and cellular biology from the DOE, up until 1991. One of the great things about that was the fact that nobody ever asked about the future applications of the research; we hoped that some good would come from the results we obtained but we weren't asked about "practical values" before we started the work. Our work DID result in valuable applications to the health and welfare of the world; it seems obvious that this is the expected result of basic research. Robert B. Painter, Professor of Microbiology, Emeritus Univ. of California, San Fracisco



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