Quem quiser ler o original, pode encontrá-lo aqui: DOE Pulls the Plug on Massive Training Initiative (DOI: 10.1126/science.332.6026.162-a). DOE é uma abreviação, em Inglês, para “Department Of Energy”, que é o órgão americano análogo ao Ministério das Minas e Energia no Brasil. Historicamente, esse é o órgão que patrocina a pesquisa científica em Física de Partículas (pense em termos da Segunda Guerra Mundial) — no Brasil, esse papel é feito pelo Ministério de Ciência e Tecnologia (através do CNPq e CAPES).
In April 2009, President Barack Obama announced an ambitious education and training initiative at the Department of Energy (DOE). Speaking to members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, Obama said a proposed 10-year, $1.6 billion program, dubbed “Regaining our Energy Science and Engineering Edge” (RE-ENERGYSE), would “capture the imagination of young people who can help us meet the energy challenge.”
But RE-ENERGYSE never got off the ground. Congress twice declined to fund any portion of its sprawling vision, which would have included graduate and postdoctoral fellowships, summer research projects for undergraduates, professional master’s degrees in clean energy, and associate degree programs to train a clean-energy technology workforce. In February, the White House threw in the towel, dropping the program from DOE’s 2012 budget request.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu insists that the Administration remains gung ho about attracting more students into the field of clean-energy research. But its 2012 budget request signals a major shift. Instead of RE-ENERGYSE, Chu is now touting expansion of a small graduate fellowship program that is run out of an office different from the one responsible for implementing RE-ENERGYSE.
To understand why RE-ENERGYSE never got off the ground, it helps to understand DOE’s checkered history in science education. Although some previous Administrations tried to carve out a larger role for DOE in this arena, Congress has traditionally seen education as a secondary mission for a department that already has major responsibilities for science, energy, national security, and environmental cleanup. So the broad scope of RE-ENERGYSE was a red flag for some influential legislators, who also wondered why it was under the jurisdiction of the energy undersecretary when existing education and workforce-training efforts were overseen by the science undersecretary (Science, 10 July 2009, p. 130).
Kristina Johnson, the former energy undersecretary whom Chu asked to manage RE-ENERGYSE, says that it seemed clear to her. “It’s a national imperative, and the president is strongly behind it,” she explains. “So I came in, very wide-eyed, and said we should do this. As an engineer, I like to set a goal and put in place a plan and then carry it out. It’s really pretty simple.”
Although Chu tried to explain the program to legislators when testifying on DOE’s 2010 budget, Congress eliminated his request for $115 million when it approved DOE’s overall budget. The next year’s request, for $55 million, fared no better. And last October, Johnson, a former engineering dean and successful entrepreneur who joined the Administration in May 2009, left DOE and now consults for energy companies. “When she left, RE-ENERGYSE was gone, too,” says one DOE official. The Administration made it official by removing the initiative from its 2012 budget.
“There are broad STEM workforce–development programs across the federal government,” says Carl Wieman, associate director for science at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, in explaining the decision. “And there are plenty of other opportunities to improve STEM education.” Wieman, a physics Nobelist and science educator who joined the Administration last fall, says that RE-ENERGYSE “may have been comprehensive, but that also makes it complex to set up and make work. So the decision was that we’ll find something that Congress is happier with and move on.”
That something, Chu says, is a request for $11 million in 2012 to more than double the number of graduate research fellows supported by DOE’s Office of Science. It’s the most direct way to beef up the nation’s clean-energy workforce, he says: “The pipeline starts early, by getting [elementary and secondary school students] interested in science. But [educating] undergraduates and those in graduate school, this is something that we feel very strongly about.” Some 150 fellows are now funded under a program begun in 2009. Last month, DOE also announced a competition this year to award 20 postdoctoral fellowships for research on clean-energy technologies.