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Energy Research Budget a Walk on the Wild Side, Says Official

Mild-mannered Anna Palmisano, head of DOE's biological and environmental research arm, said at an advisory board meeting yesterday that "the past 3 weeks have been as wild as any as I have experienced in government." For one, her managers are furiously trying to plan three fiscal years at once: the current fiscal year, which started in October but is being funded under a temporary spending bill that ends on 6 March, the 2010 budget, which agencies are still negotiating with the White House, and the 2011 budget, which will represent the first full budget submission by the Obama Administration to Congress.

On top of everything, DOE's Office of Science, under which Palmisano's branch sits, has to figure out how to spend the $2 billion it received as part of the stimulus package. That spending, she said, must be approved through the Office of Management and Budget at the White House. The officials said she had read with interest a recent story in Science that laid out how different agencies were planning to spend their new riches. Some were offering grants to unfunded proposals, others targeting special areas they wanted to bolster. But the funds will go to construction projects, she said, despite the fact that the language in the final bill didn't specify just how the Science Office should spend the money. "We chose to interpret our guidance quite literally," she said, apparently citing the White House preference, not stated by Congress in the final bill, that the money be used for "shovel-ready" projects.

And what did she think of her new boss? At an all-hands meeting earlier this month, Steven Chu mentioned "biology, biotechnology, environment, and climate" among DOE's "priorities," she said. "We are absolutely thrilled to have Dr. Steven Chu as director—I've never heard an energy secretary say that before."