GOLDEN, Colo., Feb. 21 — President Bush acknowledged on Tuesday that his administration had sent "mixed signals" to the Department of Energy's primary renewable energy laboratory here, where government budget cuts forced the layoff of 32 employees who were then hastily reinstated just before Mr. Bush's visit.
"I recognize that there has been some interesting, let me say, mixed signals when it comes to funding," Mr. Bush said at the start of a panel discussion at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which researches solar and wind power as well as energy from plants, like ethanol.
Mr. Bush added: "The issue of course is whether or not good intentions are met with actual dollars spent. Part of the issue we face, unfortunately, is that there are sometimes decisions made as a result of the appropriations process, where money may not end up where it is supposed to have gone."
The president was referring to an embarrassing sidelight of his State of the Union address on Jan. 31, when he called for new research into alternative energy to help wean the nation from its century-old oil habit. But the next day the laboratory announced that a $28 million budget cut was forcing it to lay off researchers in ethanol and wind technology, two of the areas that Mr. Bush cited in his address as full of promise.
This past weekend, with Mr. Bush's visit to the laboratory looming, the Energy Department announced that it had transferred $5 million back into the laboratory's budget and that the 32 employees would be reinstated.
"My message to those who work here is, we want you to know how important your work is," Mr. Bush said. "We appreciate what you're doing. And we expect you to keep doing it. And we want to help you keep doing it."
Managers at the laboratory began calling the employees back on Monday, a holiday, and phone calls were continuing on Tuesday. None of the employees were back at work in time for the president's visit, said a laboratory spokesman, George Douglas.
"Human Resources had to figure out how to do this," Mr. Douglas said in an interview as Mr. Bush shook the hands of employees. "There was some paperwork. We've never done this before — let people go and then hire them back in two weeks."
Mr. Douglas said the laboratory still faced a $23 million shortfall for the 2006 fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, with its total annual budget now at $179 million. As cost-cutting measures, he said, the laboratory planned to cut back on subcontractors, employee travel and conferences.
Mr. Bush's appearance at the laboratory came at the end of a two-day, three-state tour, to Wisconsin, Michigan and Colorado, to try to focus Americans' attention on the alternative energy proposals he set forth in his State of the Union address. In that speech, Mr. Bush declared that the United States is "addicted to oil" and proposed that the government spend more money on research into ethanol, solar and wind power and battery- and hydrogen-powered cars.
"I think part of this deal today is to help develop national will," Mr. Bush said in the panel discussion, when he was flanked by seven White House-selected energy specialists who backed up his ideas.
Members of both parties generally praise the president's proposals, although Democrats say they are not adequate to address the nation's dependence on oil and Republicans are skeptical about the practicality of alternative fuels like ethanol, which is made from corn or plant fibers.
Mr. Bush was a voice of optimism on the panel, where he tried to cut through the scientific jargon and nudge the experts into nontechnical sound bites for the local news.
When Dan Arvizu, the director of the laboratory, went into a complicated explanation about a new form of ethanol made from wood fiber, Mr. Bush interjected: "I think what he's saying is one of these days, we're going to take wood chips, put them through the factory, and it's going to be fuel you can put in your car. Is that right?"
"That's absolutely true," Mr. Arvizu replied.
"That's the difference between the Ph.D. and a C student," Mr. Bush said, referring to his well-known grade-point average in college.