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October 3, 2015



Congress averted a government shutdown by approving a stopgap continuing resolution to fund federal agencies until Dec. 11. That date now looms as the second of two new opportunities for conservative House Republicans - feeling their strength with the resignation of Speaker John Boehner - to stage a fiscal revolt and possibly close the government. The first will come when  Congress deals with the debt ceiling, which will have to be raised by Nov. 5 to avoid default, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew says.

COALESCING AROUND PENTAGON R&D: The White House has threatened to veto the $612 billion FY 2016 Defense Authorization Act as a way of prodding Congress to work out a budget deal. The NDAA raises defense spending by increasing the war spending account, which is exempt from caps imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act. The White House insists that if defense spending is going to increase, domestic discretionary spending should rise too.

Despite this impasse, the House and Senate armed services committees have hammered out a conference report  that represents a compromise between the two chambers. The R&D passages offer an important look at agreed-on congressional priorities. Overall, the report emphasizes innovation and rapid prototyping, calls on the Department of Defense to convey its research and engineering successes more robustly, and reforms procurement practices to make it easier for commercial outfits like SpaceX and small tech firms to do business with the Pentagon.

'SMART BUYER': The authorization bill maintains university research initiatives and university and industry research centers, funds the Global Research Watch program for an additional 10 years, extends the Rapid Innovation Program to 2023, and funds research to turn the Pentagon into a “smart buyer” of technology.

Reducing the risk and lifecycle costs of major information technology acquisition programs was a particular focus of the conferees, who noted a dismaying lack of support for business process re-engineering, such as lowering the cost of customizing commercial software or buying off-the-shelf laptops. The agreement directs DoD to conduct a gap analysis to identify relevant activities that are not being pursued in the current science and technology program.

DEEPER COMMITMENT TO MINORITY INSTITUTIONS: The conference report calls for "all organizations within the Department of Defense that are engaged in basic research" to "develop a strategy for engagement with and support of the development of scientific, technical, engineering, and mathematics capabilities with historically black colleges and universities and minority-serving institutions." The secretary of defense would use these strategies in preparing his or her own R&D plan.

'YES' TO CONFERENCES: In a sign that Congress now realizes the feds may have gone too far in cracking down on scientific colloquia, the House-Senate conferees find that "[r]obust participation in scientific and technical conferences, including industry and international conferences, will strengthen the national security scientific and technical workforce."


Graphic by Jennifer Pocock; Source: National Center for Science & Engineering Statistics

Graphic above reproduced from "Who’s Benefiting from MOOCs, and Why," Harvard Business Review, Sept. 22, 2015.


NEW ACTING ED. SECRETARY: Brooklyn native John B. King Jr., left, currently Number Two at the Department of Education, will assume the top spot when Secretary Arne Duncan leaves at the end of the year. King "played a key role in pushing New York to adopt new tests aligned to the Common Core State Standards years before other states did the same," according to the Washington Post. The White House intends for him to serve in an acting capacity, avoiding a bruising confirmation battle in the GOP-controlled Senate.

WHAT'S AHEAD FOR MANUFACTURING? The University of Michigan at Ann Arbor has been tapped by the National Science Foundation and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to "lead a consortium to identify new, emerging areas of advanced manufacturing that would benefit from shared public-private investment in research and development, education, and training," according to an Oct. 2 announcement. Michigan's point man for the Alliance for Manufacturing Foresight (MForesight) will be mechanical engineering professor Sridhar Kota, right.

COMPOSITES AND CLEAN ENERGY: The Energy Department's Institute for Advanced Composite Manufacturing Innovation " solicits and will select project proposals that advance the application and deployment of high impact advanced composites." Learn more. Meanwhile, DOE has announced "up to $70 million in funding for the next Clean Energy Manufacturing Innovation Institute, which will be focused on smart manufacturing. With this investment, the Department aims to support research and development advancements that can reduce the cost of deployment for technologies such as advanced sensors, controls, platforms, and modeling for manufacturing by as much as 50 percent."

THE MAKING OF A PRO: NSF's Research in the Formation of Engineers program "welcomes proposals that consider the construction of engineering knowledge, engineering identity, and the engineering profession, as well as interventions that expand the boundaries of each of these."

Full Proposal Deadline Date: October 29, 2015. Learn more.


WASTEWATER 'GENIUS': The latest crop of MacArthur fellows includes Columbia University environmental engineer Kartik Chandran, who is finding all manner of ways to turn wastewater into useful products. "For example, Chandran has determined an optimal combination of microbes (and associated wastewater treatment technologies) to remove nitrogen from waste while minimizing the release of nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas. This approach also involves reduced chemical and energy inputs relative to traditional treatments and has the added benefit of preventing algal blooms downstream by maximizing nitrogen removal."

BETTER LIVING THROUGH CATALYSTS: In an essay, "The Ultimate Clean Energy Strategy," Stanford professors Arun Majumdar (former director of Energy's ARPA-E) and Jens Norskov point to catalysts devised by Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch that "transformed agriculture, which in turn enabled expansion of the Earth’s human population from 2 to 7 billion. If we could apply the same 'fix' for fuels, then the result of burning them would simply return carbon taken from the air back to the atmosphere—a sustainable cycle with negligible impact on climate." This is "an extremely ambitious scientific challenge," but it can be tackled with "major resources, an unprecedented approach, and urgency: the time to act is now."


GRAND CHALLENGES REVISITED: The National Academy of Engineering's 2015 annual meeting - opening tomorrow - includes talks by Robert Langer of MIT on Engineering Better Medicines; Dawn Meyerriecks of the Central Intelligence Agency on Securing Cyberspace, and University of Virginia Provost Tom Katsouleas (former engineering dean at Duke) on the Grand Challenge Scholars program. A forum Monday picks up the theme, exploring Imperatives, Prospects, and Priorities. Also on the agenda: UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi, right, will receive the National Academy of Engineering Simon Ramo Founders Award for her “extraordinary impact on the engineering profession” and “leadership in engineering research and education.”


ASEE’s annual Engineering Technology Leaders Institute takes place October 9 in Arlington, Va. Sponsored by the Engineering Technology Council, the conference brings engineering technology educators together with industry leaders and government officials to discuss topics of importance for future engineers. This year’s program focuses on “Building a Strong Future” and includes a keynote address by ASEE President Joseph Rencis,  engineering dean at Tennessee Tech, and a report on the NAE engineering technology study. Engineering technology also was the focus of Prism’s May 2015 cover story, “Who’s an Engineer?”

JOIN THE PROFILES SURVEY: The 2015 ASEE Survey of Engineering and Engineering Technology Colleges is now open.  We need your school to participate to create an accurate picture of engineering education in the U.S.  For providing data and paying a fee, your school’s data will be published online, you will receive a copy of our Profiles in Engineering and Engineering Technology Colleges book, and you will have access to our data mining tool with seventeen years of engineering education data.  Your school may register at https://survey.asee.org/registration.  Questions? Contact Brian L. Yoder, Ph.D.  Director of Assessment, Evaluation, and Institutional Research, 202-331-3535, or b.yoder@asee.org

eGFI IS HERE: Help inspire the next generation of innovators with the all-new 6th edition of ASEE's prize-winning magazine for middle and high school students: eGFI (Engineering, Go For It). Filled with engaging features, gorgeous graphics, and useful information about engineering colleges and careers, eGFI aims to get teens fired up about learning - and doing - 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.

Special thanks for this issue of Capitol Shorts to Mary Lord, Jennifer Pocock, and Nicola Nittoli.