Donald Trump budget could hit Argonne, Fermilab

The Chicago area's two national laboratories—Argonne and Fermilab—are in line for potentially significant funding cuts after the Trump administration today proposed reductions in science-related spending.

The administration's budget blueprint for fiscal 2018 doesn't specify plans for national labs, but it targets the Department of Energy's Office of Science for a nearly 20 percent reduction.

The two labs rely heavily on that office for funding. Fermilab, in west suburban Batavia, credits the office for its entire $417.5 million current budget.

Among federal agencies and departments, only the Environmental Protection Agency (31 percent) and the State Department (29 percent) are due for substantially larger percentage cuts. The Energy Department budget would be trimmed 5.6 percent, to $28 billion.

There could be some good news in the document for Argonne and Fermilab. They could benefit at least indirectly from higher proposed spending on the nation's nuclear arsenal, which the Energy Department manages.

But Argonne's battery research and other "clean" energy technical work could be hurt by proposed reductions in the department's Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program and its Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. Argonne, in the southwest suburbs, has a $780 million budget for fiscal 2016.

Spokesmen for the labs declined to comment. A call to the Energy Department was not immediately returned.

The labs can't say they weren't warned. Energy Secretary Rick Perry said during the 2012 presidential campaign he would abolish the department (but hedged after his appointment). President Trump has called climate change—another Argonne research topic—a hoax.

Argonne researchers are said to have met to discuss ways to rename projects with more politically palatable titles—substituting "food security," for example, for "climate change."

In any case, the final word is yet to be written. As with health care legislation, Congress will have a crucial say in the final shape of a budget.

Rep. Bill Foster, D-Ill., a former Fermilab physicist, said in a statement today, "It is hard to overstate how much damage this budget will do to our ability to remain at the forefront of innovation and problem-solving."

Source: Chicago Business