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June 3, 2016



Three years ago, the National Science Foundation's inspector general's office urged the agency to "evaluate ways to reduce" the cost of so-called rotator program managers and executives recruited from universities. Methods could include "expanded use of telework and greater cost sharing by . . .  home institutions." The IG noted that NSF pays rotators out of program funds, so cutting costs could free up more money for research grants. What's happened since? Both the number and cost of executive-level rotators have risen, according to the latest semiannual report by IG Allison Lerner (left). In 2015, NSF had 27 executive-level rotators - 29 percent more than in 2012 - and was paying $2.4 million more than three years earlier.

CLOSED ENCOUNTERS: The National Science Board, NSF's policy-making body, may have "inappropriately" denied the public access to nine meetings over the last several years, the IG has determined. Lerner's office examined a sample of 85 meetings from August, 2012 through July 2015. Topics of closed meetings that appeared inconsistent with the Sunshine Act "included discussions of congressional criticism of the merit review process, the propriety of certain research awards, the method of agency funding as well as NSF’s response options to a document request" from the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. "NSB asserted that its use of [an exemption clause in the law] was appropriate," the IG's report says. (Science's Jeff Mervis reports on the NSB's new strategy toward Congress.)

3 NABBED IN $8 MILLION SBIR FRAUD: The trio allegedly "submitted grant proposals, correspondence, and reports that misrepresented the identity of their employees, and created multiple shell companies to falsify outside investments. They also bolstered their proposals with falsified letters of support." Their Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) companies "received approximately 30 grants totaling over $8 million from NSF, the Department of Energy, the Department of Transportation, and the Department of Agriculture," according to the NSF IG's report.

CREATIVE RECYCLING: Among the brazen examples of researcher misconduct cited by the IG: A grad student submitted a grant proposal for research he had already completed and published in a journal. "The proposal was a verbatim copy of the article, except the student changed past-tense verbs to future tense and replaced numerical values with ‘x’. . . ." This turned out to be a pattern. Ten more proposals were found "seeking funds to perform work that had already been completed." In another case, "a professor at a Florida university was paying her husband (who had no science background) for 'helpful suggestions' on her publications" resulting from NSF- and DOE-funded research.

HSI ALERT: NSF is encouraging proposals from two-year Hispanic-serving institutions on facilitating "the successful transfer of students (particularly those who are historically underrepresented in STEM)" to four-year institutions. "All four-year institutions are eligible," but are "strongly encouraged to partner with a two-year HSI." Learn more.  


Meeting in Japan recently, the Group of Seven industrial democracies launched a Women’s Initiative in Developing STEM Career (WINDS) "to catalyze global momentum to promote the advancement of women in STEM fields and careers." Among other things, WINDS aims to strengthen exchanges across generations and among G7 member countries and show role models. In their declaration, President Obama and the other summit leaders noted that "while the number of women graduates in STEM fields is increasing, the share of women employed in STEM careers has shown little change in the last decade. We emphasize that, in addition to education and training, it is important to remove the gender bias that women encounter, promote institutional change and create legal and policy environments which effectively advance gender equality in those careers."


Strong increases in countries outside of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), particularly in Asia, will drive rising global demand for energy over the next three decades, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration's  International Energy Outlook 2016.

DOUBLE BILLING: A principal investigator at the University of California, Davis received duplicate funding for neutron reflectivity research from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Office of Science at the Department of Energy. According to DOE's inspector general, the University agreed to implement a compliance program and pay $499,700. See the OIG's latest semiannual report

ACADEMIC TEST-BEDS: Twelve universities are joining Campus Cleantech Pilots, "a new effort to accelerate clean-energy technology commercialization by opening universities as first-of-a-kind testing and demonstration platforms for startups." Clean Energy Trust, a Chicago-based nonprofit backed by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), will match the schools with startups. The startups will use successful test results "to secure a first customer or commercial pilot." See the White House announcement.

POWER OF THE GROUP: Federal support to science and engineering consortia - $209 million in 2014 - is down from its peak of $412 million in 2009. But it's still almost double the amount spent  in 2006, according to new data from the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. The biggest sums by far are currently going to the Washington, D.C.-based  Consortium for Ocean Leadership.


Graphic by Jenn Pocock. Click here for a larger version. 


R&D TAX SWEETENERS:  Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio), right, wants to expand the now-permanent research-and-development tax credit, CQ reports. "As countries around the world are increasing their own R&D incentives, more work needs to be done to make the U.S. more competitive," he says. He claims support from industry as well as colleagues from both parties for HR 5187. According to CQ, the bill would increase the research tax break known as the alternative simplified credit from 14 percent to 20 percent of qualified research expenses that exceed 50 percent of the average research expenses for the past three years.

DEVICE LOBBY'S GAMBIT: Last year’s omnibus spending law delayed for two years a tax on the sale of medical devices that was part of the 2010 Affordable Care Act. Device companies are now pushing to repeal the tax, CQ reports. Their point person will be Scott Whitaker, who was once chief of staff for then Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson and now heads the Advanced Medical Technology Association. 


FRIEND AND MENTOR: Colleagues described William S. Klug, 39, "as both brilliant and kind, a rare blend in the competitive world of academic research," the LA Times reported. The UCLA mechanical and aerospace engineering professor, left, was slain in what police called a murder-suicide by a former Ph.D. student, Mainak Sarkar. "He's a very good friend, a mentor, professor and teacher," Peng Lyu, a doctoral student in mechanical engineering, said of Klug. Former doctoral student Melissa Gibbons recalled being asked by Klug to tutor another student who was struggling with finite element modeling. “He didn’t want to see her fail." The Times, citing the Los Angeles Police Department, also reported  that Sarkar "had accused Klug of stealing his computer code and giving it to someone else."

GAMECHANGERS: The American Society of Civil Engineers has compiled a collection of projects being planned and built today to prepare for tomorrow’s challenges. They include Boston's “porous alley,” which absorbs stormwater and filters it into the ground, and smart parking systems that offer real-time information on available parking spaces. ASCE's asking for more submissions.

NUCLEAR OPTION: The Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education reports an increase in nuclear engineering graduates in 2015, based on a survey of 35 universities.See the report

LOOKING ELSEWHERE: Sixty percent of prospective international students say they would be less likely to study at an American college if Donald J. Trump becomes president, the Chronicle of Higher Education reports. More than 40,000 students in 118 countries were surveyed by Intead, a firm that advises colleges on global marketing, and FFPEDUMedia, which runs student-recruitment fairs abroad. Benjamin Waxman, Intead’s chief executive, called the findings "jaw-dropping."  


STAYING POWER: ASEE has done extensive work on retention and time-to-graduation rates over the previous several years. A good distillation was recently done by consultant Cindy Veenstra, left. "The study of graduation rates is multivariate and complex; the colleges’ cultures, admission policies and student support/engagement activities all contribute to the variation. An engineering college with a 90% first year retention of its freshmen can expect a 5-year graduation rate of 72% while an engineering college with a 75% first year retention can expect a 47% graduation rate." See the full content.  

ROCK-A MY SEOUL: The World Engineering Education Forum & The Global Engineering Deans Council will convene in Seoul, South Korea, November 6-10, 2016. Organized by the Korea Society for Engineering Education and the Korea Engineering Deans Council, the gathering will focus on the theme, Engineering Education for Smart Society. Specific topics include Industry 4.0, the Industrial Internet, and Cybersecurity. Learn more

'ENGINEERING-ENHANCED' LIBERAL EDUCATION: ASEE, with financial support from the Teagle Foundation and expert guidance by leading education consultant Sheila Tobias, has launched a website highlighting case studies that examine the benefits of greater integration between the liberal arts and engineering. Find out more.


Engineering & Engineering Technology Chairs Conclave

Join us at the ASEE Annual Conference in New Orleans, LA on June 26, 2016 for the inaugural Chairs Conclave, an exclusive forum for Engineering and Engineering Technology Chairs to exchange ideas, share experiences, talk through challenges, and build working relationships. This full day event, designed by Chairs, for Chairs, includes presentations on relevant topics including financial development and managing external connections, and facilitated opportunities for group discussion and brainstorming.  Register today – space is limited! Learn more and view the full agenda.

eGFI Summer Reading: Is your school hosting an engineering camp, bridge program, or professional development session for K-12 teachers this summer? Jump-start the learning with eGFI (Engineering, Go For It), ASEE's award-winning magazine for middle and high school students. Filled with engaging features, gorgeous graphics, and useful information about engineering colleges and careers, eGFI aims to get teens fired up about engineering. To purchase copies, go to http://store.asee.org/  For bulk purchases or other inquiries, contact eGFI@asee.org or call 202-331-3500.