A Message from Under Secretary for Science Dr. Raymond L. Orbach to the DOE Office of Science and the Science Commmunity about Dr. James F. Decker

Insignia and logo of the Office of Science, US Department of Energy 

December 14, 2006

Dear Colleagues,

Dr. James F. Decker, our Principal Deputy Director, is retiring from the Department of Energy’s Office of Science on January 3, 2007, following a very distinguished 33-year career of public service, including 21 years as our Office’s senior career executive – and seven years as Acting Director.

Jim Decker has worked for all 11 of the Department’s Secretaries and all eight of our Office’s Directors, and he was Deputy Director or Principal Deputy Director for six of us. Throughout his tenure, Jim Decker has served our Department (and its predecessor agencies), the science community and the American people extraordinarily well. Everyone associated with the Office of Science has benefited greatly from Jim’s institutional knowledge, dedication and leadership.

As Secretary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman remarked, with Jim in the audience, at an all-hands meeting at Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory on November 21, “We are going to miss his professionalism and his wise counsel. Jim, thanks for all your great work for the Department – and the advancement of science – over the years.”

After receiving his Ph.D. in physics from Yale University in 1967, Jim Decker worked as a physicist at Bell Telephone Laboratories, until 1973, when he joined the Atomic Energy Commission’s Division of Controlled Thermonuclear Research as a plasma physicist. In 1978, Jim became the Director of the Division of Applied Plasma Physics. He served as Special Assistant to the Director of the Office of Energy Research from 1982 to 1984, and from 1984 to 1987, he was Director of the Scientific Computing Staff.

In 1985, Jim was appointed Principal Deputy Director of the DOE Office of Energy Research (renamed the Office of Science in 1999), the senior career executive who directs the day-to-day technical and management activities of the third largest Federal sponsor of basic research in the United States, the primary supporter of the physical sciences in the U.S., and one of the premier science organizations in the world. Since 2004, Jim has also served as Deputy for Programs.

Over the years, Jim Decker has made important contributions to DOE and to science, here in the U.S. and around the world. He has been a leader in the revolution in scientific computing. He played a key role in placing the Office of Science at the forefront of computational science and in bringing large-scale scientific computation into broad use in open science in the U.S. In 1986, during one of Jim’s five tours as Acting Director, the Office of Science initiated the Human Genome Project; he succeeded in winning executive branch support for the project and its first appropriation. This was the precursor to the development of modern genomics. Jim also has managed the development of the Office of Science’s world-class suite of scientific facilities and instruments, including the Advanced Light Source, Advanced Photon Source, Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, B-Factory, Continuous Electron Beam Facility and the Spallation Neutron Source.

Jim has been a leading advocate of international scientific cooperation. He was a key negotiator in securing an agreement for U.S. participation in the construction of the Large Hadron Collider. He served as the senior U.S. representative on the ITER project’s international governing council. And he was instrumental in transforming the Global Science Forum, originally a study group of 30 member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and selected non-member governments, into working groups that coordinate research programs and consider cooperative projects in a range of scientific disciplines not covered by other international mechanisms or agreements.

Jim has also been an effective manager of organizational change. When in 1999 the Secretary of Energy reassigned responsibility for the Department’s field structure to program offices, and about 600 additional people in two operations offices and 10 site offices were assigned to the Office of Science, Jim led the integration of this new responsibility and staff. Subsequently, as part of DOE’s response to the President’s Management Agenda, Jim championed the restructuring of the Office of Science organization through the OneSC project, which removed a management layer from the field structure; clarified roles and responsibilities to improve accountability, efficiency and effectiveness; and reengineered business systems and processes.

Administrations come and go, and so do political appointees. Members of the federal workforce provide the stability and continuity that keeps our government running smoothly through these periodic transitions, and some of them provide distinguished and exceptional service over substantial periods of time. Jim Decker is one such civil servant.

Jim has received several awards from DOE, as well as two Presidential Meritorious Rank Awards and, in 2003, the Presidential Rank Award for Distinguished Executives “for outstanding leadership, vision and accomplishments in directing technical and management activities of the Office of Science.”

"It is hard to imagine the Office of Science or the Department of Energy, for that matter, without Jim Decker,” said Martha Krebs, who was Director of the Office of Energy Research (then Science) from 1993 to 1999. “Before, during, and after my time in the Office of Science, Jim has cared for the programs, the people, and the scientific communities entrusted to this unique organization. He is a master of the internal processes and personalities of the Department. He worked the system on our behalf and the Office was so much the better for it. He did this all with a quietly zany sense of humor that showed up at retirement parties and after certain long, morning commutes listening to Imus be outrageous. My time as leader of the Office of Science was made richer and more effective through my partnership with Jim Decker."

“Jim epitomizes the very best in federal service,” said Al Trivelpiece, who hired Jim into the AEC in 1973, was Director of the Office of Energy Research from 1981 to 1987 and named him the Office’s Principal Deputy Director. “He established a reputation for honesty, fairness, and dedication to the activities and programs for which he was responsible. He is a trusted advisor both within the Department and to other elements and agencies of our government. The science and engineering communities in the United States and other countries owe him a great debt of gratitude for his tireless efforts to help provide the leadership that has led to substantial international programs that have advanced the state of knowledge in many disciplines.”

Please join our Secretary, my predecessors and me in thanking Jim for his many contributions to DOE, the Office of Science and the science community. He has been a personal mentor to me, and I shall miss him greatly. I know you will join with me in wishing him and his family health, happiness and all the best in his retirement.

Signature of Dr. Raymond L. Orbach 
Raymond L. Orbach
Director, Office of Science
U.S. Department of Energy