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                          September 14, 2019                                 




Hopes for a relatively smooth, bipartisan appropriations process broke down this week in the Senate. Appropriators split along party lines in dividing the agreed-upon $1.3 trillion in discretionary spending among the 12 spending bills. Source of the disagreement: The GOP majority, led by Richard Shelby of Alabama (far right photo) added several billion dollars to Homeland Security for border wall construction and rejected Democrats' bid to shift this money to Labor-Health and Human Services and Education bills. However, since Democrats control the House, they will get another crack at the allocations during House-Senate negotiations.

Border security also caused a partisan split over the defense spending bill, with Democrats, led by Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont (near right) seeking to limit President Trump's  authority to shift money from military construction to the border wall. That bill nevertheless cleared the full committee, as did the Energy-Water appropriation, which funds R&D at the Energy Department. See a comprehensive rundown by Lewis-Burke Associates and a Defense News account

A PLUS-UP FOR BASIC RESEARCH: The Senate defense spending bill calls for $104 billion for research development, testing, and evaluation, about $1.4 billion more than the president requested. The total includes $308 million more than the president sought for basic research, which the panel considers the "foundation  for  Department  of  Defense  innovation  and  future  technologies." A beneficiary is the Office of Naval Research, which the White House wanted to squeeze.

FALLING SHORT ON TESTS: The appropriations committee, in its report accompanying the defense spendhng bill, says an internal Pentagon review has turned up shortfalls  in  test  and  evaluation  infrastructure  for several  critical technologies, such as hypersonics,  space,  directed  energy,  and  cyber.

THE RIGHT STUFF: Senate appropriators are bullish on carbon fiber and graphite foam technology and their potential to "reduce  vehicle  weight  and  fuel  consumption,  increase  payload  capacity,  extend  service  life,  reduce  vehicle  signatures,  improve  survivability,  and  utilize  additive  man-ufacturing  technology  to  reduce  cost  in  the  Next  Generation  Combat  Vehicle  program." They also expect U.S. soldiers will be venturing more into the Arctic region. The Army is urged "to  rapidly  develop  superior  cold  weather  and  Arctic  clothing  for  soldiers,  expedite  the  evaluation  and  integration  of  technologies  and  prototype  systems  from  the  laboratory  to  operational  use,  and  integrate  fabrics  that  reduce  weight  and  increase  mobility  and  comfort  in  combat."

ACCOUSTICS AND RADAR: Senators want increased spending on "ocean  acoustics  science  and technology efforts that will enable tactical maneuver for the future submarine  force." They also support "partnerships  with  laboratory-based antenna test facilities that will help the Navy under-stand,  characterize,  and  calibrate  advanced  all-digital  radars."

ENERGY AND RESILIENCY: The  Committee encourages a number of steps to ease the Navy's dependence on fossil fuels and "achieve military energy resiliency." These include materials  to improve  safety  and  performance  in  lithium-ion  batteries, hybrid propulsion for small surface craft, and new   novel   energy   technologies,   such   as   marine   hydrokinetic  energy  converters. It calls for "leveraging  experienced  energy  university  researchers  in  concert  with  industry  partners  and  the  Navy.  Specific  areas  of  interest  include  addressing  electrical  power  intermittency,  integrating  renewable  energy  sources  into  the  grid,  energy  storage, improved  micro-grids,  grid  security (and)  local  generation  of  zero-carbon  fuels." The panel recommends more money for  research,  development,  testing  and  deployment  of  advanced  energy  systems  with  the  potential  to  reduce  the  cost  of  energy  and  increase  energy  security,  reliability,  and  resiliency.

AUTOMATED HEALTH CARE: Senators believe  that on land and sea, "state-of-the-art  medical  device  technologies  such  as  automated  critical  care  systems  with  decision  support  may  be  the  difference  between  life  and  death  and  will  have  a  significant impact in medical care for both the military and civilian communities  dealing  with  mass  casualties."

CYBER ED: Appropriators want to boost spending on the  National  Centers for Academic Excellence Cyber Defense program and establish "a workforce development pilot program that would offer  certificate-based  courses  through  the  centers . . . in  cybersecurity  and  artificial  intelligence.  It urges establishment of Defense Cyber Institutes, with "consideration  to  the  Senior  Military  Colleges,  to  award  scholarships,  student  and  research  support,  and  a  K–12  cyber  education program. The panel "encourages  the  Department  of  Defense  and  the  intelligence  community  to  review  opportunities" for future recruitment "in  underrepresented  populations  and  minority  communities  and  to  work  with  qualified  historically  black  colleges  and  universities  to  identify  and  recruit the next generation of cyber professionals."

MANUFACTURING AND COMMUNITY COLLEGES: Senate appropriators recommend spending $45 millon above the administration's request for manufacturing  engineering  grants. They want community colleges and technical schools to be a priority. 

PORTABLE REACTORS: Senators want speeded up efforts toward a final engineering design ol a "transportable  nuclear reactor to better satisfy the logistics and other power needs of  Department  of  Defense  expeditionary  basing,  humanitarian  assistance,  and  disaster  relief  operations."

BOOST FOR RESEARCH AT ENERGY DEPARTMENT: The Energy Sciences Coalition reports: "The FY 2020 Senate Energy and Water bill includes $7.22 billion for the Office of Science, a $630 million increase above the FY 2019 enacted level.  The Appropriations Committee advanced the bill on a bipartisan 31-0 vote."


Comparison of Proposed Funding Levels between the House and Senate for the 12 Appropriations Bills (dollars in billions)

Source: Lewis-Burke Associates LLC.



CLIMATE SKEPTIC IS OUT: Physicist William Happer, "likely the only scientist to have briefed [President]Trump on climate change," spent his last day at the White House Sept. 13. His plan to review climate science "was shelved after a number of Trump administration officials, including science adviser Kelvin Droegemeier, suggested that it could be harmful to the president during the 2020 campaign," E&E reports. Happer did succeed in blocking written congressional testimony by a senior State Department analyst who tried to warn lawmakers of the security risks posed by climate change.

WANT TO BE QIST? The Department of Energy seeks nominations to the National Quantum Initiative Advisory Committee. Advice "will include assessments of trends and developments in quantum information science and technology (QIST), implementation and management of the [National Quantum Initiative], whether NQI activities are helping to maintain United States leadership in QIST, whether program revisions are necessary, what opportunities exist for international collaboration and open standards, and whether national security and economic considerations are adequately addressed by the NQI." Learn more.

OFTEN THE ONLY WOMAN IN THE ROOM: See text and a slide presentation by National Science Foundation Director France Córdova honoring astronomer Vera Rubin. 

CRUCIAL BUT UNDERAPPRECIATED: That's how a new report from the National Science Board describes the role in the nation's science and engineering enterprise of the skilled technical workforce -- the millions of men and women with STEM skills and knowledge who do not have a bachelor’s degree. The NSB's 18-month study, led by Victor McCrary (right), vice president for research and graduate programs at the University of the District of Columbia, makes four key recommendations: 

  • "The NSB and NSF, and other S&E leaders should communicate the importance of the STW to our nation’s S&E enterprise, individual economic prosperity, national security, and U.S. global competitiveness."
  • "To understand and begin to address data gaps, NSF’s NCSES, with additional federal resources and collaborating with other statistical agencies, should collect nationally representative data on the education, skills, and workforce characteristics of the STW."
  • "NSF should conduct a full portfolio analysis of its STW investments. The analysis could publicize and inform stakeholders about the breadth of NSF’s contributions to the STW, build awareness of funding opportunities, and maximize and leverage the impact of these investments."
  • "In strengthening educational pathways for the STW, policymakers and educational institutions should recognize that K-12 school systems, two-year colleges, four-year colleges and universities, and other post-secondary education and workforce development programs are integral, synergistic parts of a whole. These institutions should work as partners together with business and industry to grow the STEM-capable U.S. workforce via STW programs tailored to the needs of their local communities." 


Source: National Science Board, "The Skilled Technical Workforce: Crafting America’s Science & Engineering Enterprise"; "Science and Engineering Labor Force,” Science and Engineering Indicators 2020 (forthcoming).Data source: Census Bureau, American Community Survey 2017, public use microdata


AAU TAPS 8 SCHOOLS FOR Ph.D PILOT: The Association of American Universities Ph.D. initiative is intended "to promote more student-centered doctoral education . . . by making diverse Ph.D. career pathways visible, valued, and viable." Goals: "Influence the culture and behavior at the department level to provide PhD students with the knowledge, skills, and abilities to be successful in careers both within and beyond academia"; "Identify institutional policies and practices to make PhD program data . . . widely available"; and "Highlight and encourage effective university, disciplinary society, and federal agency strategies and programs." The eight schools tapped for the pilot will implement reforms over three years. They are: Boston University; Duke University; Indiana University Bloomington; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; University of Iowa; University of Missouri; University of Texas at Austin; University of Virginia.

CHINA, EU, AND RESEARCH: A two-part series by Jeffrey Mervis in ScienceInsider "examines the nature of interactions between European and Chinese scientists." Part I looks at how European funding agencies view the issue. Part II explores "the experiences of several European researchers who have worked in China. . . . Some aspects of their stories will sound familiar to academic scientists anywhere in the world, whereas others have a uniquely Chinese flavor."

VISA DELAYS, EXTRA SCRUTINY DRAW UNIVERSITY COMPLAINTS: The American Institute of Physics's FYI Bullein reports that "University leaders are calling on Congress and the Trump administration to address significantly increased delays and disruptions in visa processing for international students and scholars." They cite holdups in “administrative processing,” entailing additional background checks, and delays impacting the H-1B visa and Optional Practical Training (OPT) programs. They are troubled by "multifaceted federal efforts to crack down on allegedly exploitative research conduct encouraged by some foreign governments, particularly China’s." The latest leader to speak out is Harvard President Larry Bacow. In a letter to the community, he writes that proposed entry criteria "privilege those who are already educated, who already speak English, and who already have demonstrable skills. They fail to recognize others who yearn for a better future and who are willing to sacrifice and work hard to achieve it." 


'DEEP LEARNING' AROUND THE WORLD: A National Academies symposium "addressed if and how artificial intelligence (AI) would benefit from further international cooperation." The event "also summarized discussions at a day-and-a-half meeting on May 23-24, 2019* convened by the National Academies and Royal Society where 45 scientists, engineers, and other AI experts from the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, China, the European Commission, Germany, and Japan discussed key areas of national and international policy on AI where international collaboration would be most beneficial." Read the report.



ASEE is seeking applications and nominations for the position of Editor‐in‐Chief for the journal Advances in Engineering Education. The anticipated start date for this volunteer position is July 1, 2020, with applications due this fall. Learn more here.

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