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                                    April 27, 2019



Top White House officials are imploring key Republicans to move quickly and raise the debt ceiling, the Washinton Post reports. Other budget discussions with Capitol Hill have broken down, leaving policymakers at a loss for ways to avoid a pileup of dangerous deadlines in September that could affect the stock market, labor market and economic growth. Acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney has played a major role. "But . . . some Democrats are insisting that any debt ceiling deal come as part of a package of changes that raises spending levels" in fiscal 2020. "The White House has sent mixed signals as to whether it would support raising spending caps," which were set by the 2011 Budget Control Act. Without a bipartisan budget deal, sequestration would kick in, forcing across-the-board cuts.

NBC reports that congressional staff from both parties met with the Trump administration, but came away without "clear contours of an agreement." The network says the White House opposes bundling the issues together and also says President Trump will not accept another significant increase in federal spending. In an Atlantic profile, Mulvaney holds Congress, including the GOP, responsible for the ballooning debt of the past few years. He says lawmakers are voting for bills that they themselves admit spend way too much money. "'Tell me how the president is supposed to be fiscally conservative against that backdrop,' Mulvaney said. “So yeah, we spend too much money. But the president by himself can’t change that.'” The Congressional Budget Office projected in February that without a debt limit increase, "the Treasury will probably have sufficient cash to make its usual payments until late in the fiscal year, although an earlier or later date is possible."

BILL SEEKS STEADY INCREASES FOR RESEARCH: Legislation sponsored by three Democrats from Illinois, Sen. Dick Durbin and Reps. Bill Foster and Lauren Underwood, "would establish a mandatory funding stream for key basic science agencies," according to a AAAS Policy Alert. The lawmakers announced they would reintroduce two bills: The American Cures Act "would provide annual budget increases of 5 percent plus inflation over the next five years for four biomedical research agencies: the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Defense Health Program, and the Veterans Medical and Prosthetics Research Program." The second part, called the American Innovation Act, calls for annual increases of 5 percent over the next five years — for the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy Office of Science, the Department of Defense Science and Technology programs, the National Institute of Standards and Technology Scientific and Technical Research, and NASA’s Science Directorate.


DOMINATE TIME, SPACE, AND COMPLEXITY: That's what the new U.S. Air Force Science and Technology Strategy aims to achieve, in part by making 20 percent of the overall S&T budget a "transformational component" focused on advancing technology solutions along five strategic capabilities: 1. Global Persistent Awareness; 2. Resilient Information Sharing; 3. Rapid, Effective Decision-Making; 4. Complexity, Unpredictability, and Mass; 5. Speed and Reach of Disruption and Lethality. Information sharing "requires high-performance electronic connectivity to flexibly and reliably link computers and systems, manned and unmanned, of different types and generations. . .  The military’s demands on these capabilities exceed the limits of current wireless network technology, even under favorable circumstances."

LOW-END SYSTEMS: The Air Force, according to the strategy, "must augment its high-end platforms with larger numbers of inexpensive, low-end systems. Swarms of low-cost, autonomous air and space systems can provide adaptability, rapid upgradability, and the capacity to absorb losses that manned systems cannot.  By leveraging advances in artificial intelligence, low-cost sensors, and networked communications, low-end systems can restore the agility to attack adversary weaknesses in unexpected ways by exploiting numbers and complexity." The plan for this calls for research "well beyond what can be expected from the commercial sector."

BOLSTER RECRUITMENT: The service "will enhance recruiting to ensure a strong pipeline of top scientific and technical talent.  Specific objectives to bolster recruiting include the following:Strengthen, streamline, and augment graduate student, postdoctoral researcher, and internship programs for U.S. and allied nation engineers and scientists.Significantly expand competition for and engagement of university-based Air Force research through competitive grant awards, including the funding of doctoral students, summer faculty research experiences, and sabbaticals at Air Force laboratories in order to connect the best scientific talent outside of the Air Force to important Air Force problems." 

NEW LAB-TO-MARKET OPTIONS: The National Institute of Standards and Technology has released the final "green paper" of its Return on Investment Initiative. A press release says it contains options on how federally funded inventions "can move move from the laboratory to the marketplace by: streamlining federal regulations; enabling greater flexibility for public-private partnerships; increasing engagement with private-sector investors; building a more entrepreneurial workforce, and   improving support for innovation by clarifying the intended purpose of 'march-in rights.'" The green paper says the Bayh Dole Act is unclear on march-in rights. "Clarifications for 'reasonable terms' and 'practical application' would allow flexibility in crafting commercial or other terms in license agreements to  achieve  effective  technology  transfer." The .Association of American Universities' Weekly Wrapup  says "NIST has not released a timetable to implement its findings." 

STUDENT VISA FEE HIKE MOVES FORWARD: The Trump Administration has completed a review of the Department of Homeland Security’s June 2018 proposed rule "to increase by 75 percent the fees foreign students pay for visas and impose new fees on schools accepting international students," according to AAU's Weekly Wrapup, which cites PoliticoPro. This appears to mean higher fees will go into effect, but the administration is not saying when. Under the proposed rule, "the program fee for international students on F and M visas would increase from $200 to $350 and exchange visitors would face an increase from $180 to $220. The "school certification petition fee" would increase from $1,700 to $3,000 and schools would have to pay new additional fees when seeking recertification, appealing government decisions, and changing or adding new locations."

HUNDREDS OF VISAS DELAYED: NPR reports: "Visas are the latest weapon in a growing rivalry between the U.S. and China. This year, the U.S. canceled visas for a number of prominent Chinese scholars with government links over concerns that such exchanges are conduits for peddling influence and for espionage. Increased scrutiny has delayed visas to hundreds of Chinese students. Meanwhile, American academics continue to fail to receive visas to China."

CUBA TRAVEL CURBS NOT SPELLED OUT: Although the administration introduced new restrictions on travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens, it remains to be seen how the new rules might impact scientific collaboration, AAAS says. The president's national security adviser, John Bolton, has said at least some of the travel to Cuba was “veiled tourism,” and that the government would be cracking down on it.

SHANAHAN CLEARED BY IG: "Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan got a boost in his bid to get the permanent Cabinet job on Thursday when the Pentagon’s inspector general decisively cleared him on charges that he had used his federal office to go to bat for his former employer, the major contractor Boeing Co.," Government Executive reports

RESEARCH CENTER FAQs: The National Science Foundation has issued a Frequently Asked Questions primer on planning grants for the new generation of Engineering Research Centers.  

CRII, BABY: The NSF Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) Research Initiation Initiative (CRII) "seeks to provide essential resources to enable early-career PIs to launch their research careers. For the purposes of this program, CISE defines “essential resources” as those that (a) the PI does not otherwise have, including through organizational or other funding and (b) are critical for the PI to conduct early-career research that will enable research independence." 

COPING MECHANISMS: The National Science Foundation's Coastlines and People (CoPe) program seeks "to build capacity and explore research focused on understanding the impacts of coastal environmental variability and natural hazards on populated coastal regions. CoPe projects should explore the complex interface between coastal natural processes, geohazards, people and their natural and built environments. CoPe will include coastal variability and hazards on a range of spatial and temporal scales, from local to global and seconds to millenia to put current changes in context of pre-anthropogenic changes." Papers from the workshops can be found at this link. (The image at right comes from a paper by researchers at Clemnson University, Old Dominion University, and the University of Florida entitled "Adaptable Coastal Cities.")



Source: Air Force Science and Technology Strategy

Graphic by Jennifer Pocock; Source: National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. Click here to see an interactive version with actual numbers..


PREEMPTING BREXIT: The  European Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST) Association, the Brussels-based agency that provides 33 million euros a year to stimulate research networks, is requiring that U.K. grant holders shift financial administration to a partner in Europe by 1 May, ScienceInsider reports. "COST says the change will prevent disruption if Brexit occurs without a deal to smooth the transition, and that it does not affect participation by U.K. scientists. But U.K. grant holders say the policy change is premature, disruptive to research—and in at least one case it has led to a staff layoff. 'The bureaucratic nightmare of moving these grants is pretty horrendous,' says Nic Walton, an astronomer at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom."

MORE THAN TALK: The Audacious Project, run by TED ("Ideas Worth Spreading"), has awarded $35 million to a Salk Institute project to develop plants that grow bigger, more robust root systems that will absorb carbon from the atmosphere and bury it deep in the soil--thereby helping to combat climate change. See the institute's press release.


THE DEFINING 21st CENTURY TECHNOLOGIES: Those would be Cyber-Physical Systems, the National Academy of Engineering says. They're the central topic of the NAE's regional meeting May 1 at the University of Virginia. Keynoter at the full-day symposium will be Vinton G. Cerf, vice president and chief internet evangelist for Google, speaking on "Ethics, Computer Science and the Internet of Things." See the program.


IFEES-GEDC QUARTERLY BULLETIN: Topics in Global Engineer, put out by the International Federation of Engineering Education Societies and the Global Engineering Deans Council, include: "American University of Sharjah Celebrates 12 Months of Diversity Gains in Engineering"; "Diversifying the Engineering Workforce"; "Queer Identities in Materials Science and Engineering"; and a feature on Dean Juan Carlos de la Llera Martin


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