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                                   June 22, 2019




Partisan Divide, White House Veto Threat Foreshadow Future Fights

University priorities fared well in the nearly trillion-dollar bill "minibus" that cleared House Wednesday on a party-line 226-203 vote. The measure funds departments of Defense, Health and Human Services (including the National Institutes of Health), Education, and Energy. At the Pentagon, the bill supports Army Defense Research Sciences, Army and Air Force University Research Initiatives, Navy Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI), the Defense University Research Instrumentation Program (DURIP), Defense-wide Minerva Research Initiative, Defense Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (DEPSCOR), and the National Defense Education Program, as well as programs to increase the participation of women and minorities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Applied research in the bill  advances unmanned systems, autonomy, propulsion, materials, manufacturing, digital security, energetics, and hypersonics.

Energy funding in the bill includes increases for the Office of Science, ARPA-E, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, cybersecurity, and next-generation nuclear reactors. At Health and Human Services, it provides a $2 billion increase for the NIH, including money for the BRAIN initiative, Cancer Moonshot, research centers in minority institutions, and, in a 20-year first, firearm injury and mortality prevention research. Read a summary. The full House has begun debate on a second minibus funding the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Standards and Technology, and other science agencies.

'STRIKING' GOP OPPOSITION: Republicans united against the first minibus despite inclusion of the Defense bill, "which typically enjoys broad support" from the party, CQ noted, adding, "without a major rewrite, the package stands little chance of becoming law." The Trump administration has threatened a veto. Besides a border-security bill, Senate appropriators have yet to pass a spending measure. Talks continue on a two-year budget deal to prevent a return of draconian sequestration cuts. Politico reports that President Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi "are the key players in these negotiations, and they're nowhere close to an agreement." The Hill reports that GOP lawmakers, anxious to avoid a shutdown, want acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, a fervent budget cutter "pushed to the sidelines" in the talks. They'd prefer Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. 

AI, HYPERSONICS, QUANTUM, CYBER, SPACE, AND BIOTECH are top priorities in the Senate Armed Services' version of the FY 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. (See a summary and a press release). The bill ensures that "our military is not fighting tomorrow’s wars with yesterday’s weapons and equipment," the committee says. The new Space Force "will focus on cultivating a space warfighting ethos, unify command of space operations and activities, and improve acquisition policies for space programs and systems." Among other provisions, the bill lets the Pentagon pursue the capability to produce rare earth elements from coal ash. China currently dominates the rare-earth market.

The Coalition for National Security Research notes these increases in various programs: Army Defense Research Sciences + $5 million for Counter UAS University Research; Army University and Industry Research Centers + $2 million for 3D printing;  Army Cyber Collaborative Research Alliance + $5 million for cyber basic research; Navy University Research Initiatives + $10 million for cyber basic research; Defense-Wide Basic Research Initiatives + $10 million for DEPSCOR; Defense-Wide National Defense Education Program + $10 million for submarine industrial base workforce training and education; Defense-Wide Cyber Security Research + $10 million for academic cyber institutes; Industrial Base Analysis and Sustainment Support + $3.5 million for rare earth element production, + $5 million for advanced systems manufacturing, + $15 million for composite manufacturing technologies, abd + $15 million for printed circuit boards.

SOCIAL MEDIA AND FOREIGN INFLUENCE: An amendment to the NDAA proposed by the Senate Intelligence Committee's chairman and ranking Democrat authorizes a Social Media Data Analysis Center aimed at, among other things, "detecting, exposing, and countering clandestine foreign influence operations and related unlawful activities that fund or subsidize such operations."

'PROTECT OUR UNIVERSITIES ACT': That's the name given by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.)  to another proposed NDAA amendment. It could create an inter-agency task force that would compile lists of sensitive research topics and projects and assess whether "the current licensing regulations relating to the  International Traffic in Arms Regulations and the Export  Administration Regulations are sufficient to protect the security of the projects listed on the Sensitive Research Projects List." Approval by the Department of Homeland Security would be required for any student from China, Russia, or Iran to work on the project.  Researchers would be barred from using technology developed by certain proscribed entities. Hawley, shown at left on Fox News, defeated veteran Democrat Claire McCaskill last November. 

NDAA SECURITY THREAT LANGUAGE: Absent the Hawley amendment, the FY 2020 Senate NDAA would require the Pentagon to identify Chinese and Russian academic institutions that are engaged in military research, try to recruit talent  to boost their defense capabilities or "pose  a  serious  risk  of  intangible  transfers  of  defense  or  engineering  technology  and  research." Universities that conduct "significant" Department of Defense would help draw up the list. (See the Armed Services report)

FELLOWSHIP, BLUE CARBON, AND DIRECT AIR: Other provisions of interest in the Senate NDAA include "a  technology  and  national  security  fellowship  for  individuals  that  possess   an   undergraduate   or   graduate   degree   that   focuses   on   science, technology, engineering, or mathematics course work" ; and a recommendation that the Pentagon, in coordination with other agencies, "carry  out  a  program  on  the  research,  development,  testing,  evaluation,  study,  and  demonstration  of  technologies  related  to  blue  carbon capture and direct air capture." Blue carbon is stored in coastal and marine ecosystems. Direct air capture separates carbon dioxide from air. The program is intended to help mitigate climate change.

FEMALE WARFIGHTER PERFORMANCE: The Armed Services panel "notes that  additional  research  and  technology  development  must  be  conducted  to  optimize  equipment,  protective   gear,   medical   treatments,   and   nutrition   for   female   warfighters.  The  committee  also  notes  that  there  is  a  lack  of  data  on  female  warfighter  performance  in  previous  studies,  which  for  the  most  part  only  included  males  as  research  subjects—leaving  servicewomen  largely  unresearched  and  yielding  a  gap  in  the  scientific  literature  on  female  performance  outcomes  under  different  stresses."

AIR-BREATHING WEAPONS:  One aspect of hypersonic weapons has the Armed Services Committee concerned: "a lack of focus on air-launched  and  air-breathing  hypersonic  capability." So the panel recommends  an  increase  of  $75 million "for  the  continued  development  and  transition  of  the  Hypersonic  Air  Breathing Weapons Concept."

ADVANCED DEGREES PLUS A GREEN CARD: Legislation proposed by four Democratic senators would make it easier for international students who earn advanced STEM degrees to remain in the United States, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. They would need to get a job offer related to their field of study at a pay rate above the median for their geographic area. They would also have to demonstrate that they were not taking a job away from a qualified American.

PANEL ADVANCES ANTI-HARASSMENT BILL:  The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee has uanimously approved legislation requiring the administration to write guidelines for combatting sexual harassment involving federally funded researchers. ScienceInsider reports that before passage, the bill was modified to meet university concerns about rules already used by the National Science Foundation. NSF says it must be notified if "a researcher is found guilty of sexual or gender harassment, and when the university takes any steps in response to an allegation of harassment involving a researcher." The amendment "makes clear that the trigger for that reporting is an administrative action that affects the ability of the grant personnel to carry out the activities of the grant," said Rep. Frank Lucas (R–Okla.), the committee's ranking member.

WORKFORCE RETRAINING IN STEM was the focus of a congressional briefing by the STEM Education Coalition that drew "an audience of 50 staff, outside groups, agency people, and a few press," reports an attendee from Lewis-Burke Associates. An attendee from Lewis-Burke Associates says speakers included Karen Horting, Executive Director and CEO of the Society of Women Engineers, who "spoke about the organization’s STEM Reentry Task Force to aid women in returning to STEM after a career break. In the question and answer time she responded that having employers hear success stories can help with scaling up the program. She mentioned that they hear the women in the program quickly grow into leadership positions and that engineers are well-prepared as they are typically life-long learners. They also try to break the myth that someone coming back from a career break would be a risk to hire." ASEE was a co-sponsor of the event.


MORE PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS: A new White House artificial intelligence strategic plan keeps much of the 2016 Obama administration while giving "greater attention to making AI trustworthy" and partnering with the private sector. It puts forward eight strategic priorities: 1. Long-term investments in AI research. 2. Develop  effective  methods  for  human-AI  collaboration. 3.  Understand  and  address  the  ethical,  legal,  and  societal  implications  of  AI.  4. Ensure the safety and security of AI systems. 5. Develop shared public datasets and environments for AI training and testing. 6. Measure and evaluate AI technologies through standards and benchmarks. 7.  Better  understand  the  national  AI  R&D  workforce  needs. 8. Expand public-private partnerships to accelerate advances in AI.

XLab WILL BE AI-ONLY: Energy Secretary Rich Perry says the October summit in Chicago "will convene world class experts from DOE’s national labs with private industry to showcase the vast capabilities of our supercomputers. The potential of DOE-fueled Artificial Intelligence is enormous." Read Perry's Op-ed

OBAMA CLIMATE POLICY ALTERED: The White House  proposes changing the way agencies evaluate the environmental effect of things like pipelines and oil and gas drilling. Agencies "need not give greater consideration to potential effects from [greenhouse gas] than to other potential effects on the human environment." In 2017, the Trump administration withdrew a rule directing agencies to analyze how projects they approve will contribute to climate change.

DOE, JAPAN, EU CONVERGE ON HYDROGEN FUEL CELLS: U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette, Japan's Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry Hiroshige Seko, and European Union Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy Miguel Cañete say in a joint communique that their organizations "intend to strengthen their unity to accelerate the development of sustainable hydrogen and fuel cell technologies" and "scale-up hydrogen in the global economy." Meanwhile, DOE has announced creation of an Innovation Network for Fusion Energy (INFUSE) to promote public-private collaboration between the public and private sectors.

OFFER YOUR CRITIQUE: The National Science Foundation seeks help judging the 33 entries still in the running for the 2026 Idea Machine competition grand prize. Watch the video pitches and review entries until June 26 at nsf2026imgallery.skild.com.

HELP THROUGH THE GRANT MAZE: The National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering will be hosting a webinar on July 1, from 12-1p.m., to "break down the grant application process"  for new applicants and offer tips on how to write a successful application.  when applying for funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The webinar "will be focused on the Biosensors and Physiological Detectors program, which supports the development of sensor technologies for the detection and quantitation of clinically relevant analytes in complex matrices for use in a spectrum of diagnostic, therapeutic, imaging, and other biomedical applications." Learn more. 

SHORT COURSES: The National Institute of Health plans to offer a funding opportunity as part of its Blueprint for Neuroscience Research Education Program on Translational Devices. NIH intends to "solicit applications to develop a comprehensive set of short courses that draws on lessons learned in academia and industry and is aimed at filling the translational knowledge gap for the academic investigator and small business communities. The courses should address the unique challenges inherent in developing and translating novel devices to diagnose or treat nervous system disorders." Learn more.

MURI-BOUND: The Pentagon's Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative program (MURI) awards funds "to teams of investigators that include more than one traditional science and engineering discipline." Recent topics have included artificial intelligence, fundamental biological science and bio-materials, quantum science and quantum materials, high powered electromagnetics, and hypersonics. During midterm reviews, MURI teams two years into their work give 20-minute presentations. This year's MURI Review will be held July 25-26  at Strategic Analysis, Inc., in Arlington, Va. Find out more

GAMMA ON: The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) will host a Proposers Day webcast Gamma Ray Inspection Technology (GRIT) program."The program objective is to develop prototype systems capable of producing intense, tunable, and narrow bandwidth gamma rays using novel techniques and emerging component technologies that can achieve transportable form factors supporting DoD and interagency partner mission needs." Learn more.


Distribution of domestic R&D expenditures, employment, and Ph.D. employment, by industry: 2016 (Percent)

R&D by multinational enterprises based in high-income countries is more concentrated in the home country. Data are from the Business R&D and Innovation Survey, conducted by the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics within the National Science Foundation and by the U.S. Census Bureau. See the InfoBrief

Federal outlays and obligations for research, development, and R&D plant, by field of science and engineering for research obligations: FYs 2016–18
(Millions of dollars)


LESS MONEY, FEWER DEGREES: A study cited by the Brookings Institution finds that declining state funding has "induced public universities to raise tuition and to shift toward tuition as their primary source of revenue. . . . Overall, the increased tuition has resulted in increased unmet need—the cost of attendance not covered by grants or family resources—among moderate- and low-income students at all public colleges." Additionally, the authors estimate that a 10% drop in state appropriations led to a 3.6% drop in bachelor’s degree attainment and a 7.2% drop in Ph.D. degree attainment at public research universities. The findings suggest that stagnating state support for public universities may have long-term adverse effects on the supply of skilled workers with college degrees and workforce productivity, the authors say."

INTERNATIONAL GRADUATES STYMIED: Delays in processing optional practical training (OPT) applications have left international students unable to start their summer jobs or internships, the New York Times reports. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is projecting a waiting time of up to five months. Students can apply for OPT no earlier than 90 days before they are scheduled to start a job or complete a degree. Inside Higher Ed reports: "USCIS said in a statement it had 'implemented a plan to address this and return to standard processing times soon.'”


'CLEAR AND GROWING': That's how Marcia McNutt, president of the National Academy of Sciences, C. D. Mote, Jr., president of the National Academy of Engineering, and Victor J. Dzau, president of the National Academy of Medicine, characterize evidence on the impacts of climate change is also clear and growing. "The atmosphere and the Earth’s oceans are warming, the magnitude and frequency of certain extreme events are increasing, and sea level is rising along our coasts. A solid foundation of scientific evidence on climate change exists. It should be recognized, built upon, and most importantly, acted upon for the benefit of society." The three issued a statement "to support the cumulative scientific evidence for climate change and the scientists who continue to advance our understanding."

CANCER FINGERPRINTS: Complex laboratory and imaging tests are helping oncologists understand the molecular underpinnings of an individual patient’s cancer. "These molecular fingerprints can be quite complex and heterogeneous, even within a single patient. To enable these molecular tumor characterizations to effectively and safely inform cancer care, the cancer community is working to develop and validate multiparameter omics tests and imaging tests as well as software and computational methods for interpretation of the resulting datasets." See the National Academies report

Learn what's in store at the September 25-27 U.S. Frontiers of Engineering Symposium in Charleston, S.C. 

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