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                                     March 24 2018



The $1.3 trillion FY 2018 Omnibus appropriations bill enacted Friday contains the biggest annual increase for federal research agencies since the 2009 Recovery Act, according to budget analysts at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Setting aside that unusual stimulus measure, approved during a recession, the omnibus "appears to be the most generous regular appropriations bill in 17 years for research," they report. Altogether, R&D spending would climb to $176.8 billion this year, "an increase of 12.8 percent or $20.1 billion above FY 2017." Rejecting many of the cuts proposed by President Trump, the omnibus marks a sharp turn away from the austere spending bills that followed the 2011 Budget Control Act and increases federal research as a share of GDP to 0.42 percent, "the highest point since before sequestration was enacted," according to AAAS.

A MORNING OF SUSPENSE: The president signed the bill in early afternoon, hours after tweeting: "I am considering a VETO of the Omnibus Spending Bill based on the fact that the 800,000 plus DACA recipients have been totally abandoned by the Democrats (not even mentioned in Bill) and the BORDER WALL, which is desperately needed for our National Defense, is not fully funded."

BIG WINNERS in percentage terms were the Department of Energy, the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and NASA science, followed by Defense science and technology. Congress increased funding for the Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy, which the Trump administration wants to eliminate. (See chart below, courtesy of the American Institute of Physics' FYI.) NSF got a more modest 4 percent increase to $7.8 billion (university advocates had sought $8 billion.) Congress was selective with Pentagon R&D. The 2.9 percent basic research increase "is directed towards the Navy and Defense-Wide basic research programs, with Army and Air Force basic research programs receiving small cuts," according to ASEE's partners at Lewis-Burke Associates. "Army, Navy and Air Force University Research Initiatives (were) all increased" over FY 2017 enacted levels, according to the Coalition for National Security Research, which notes "[s]izable increases for the National Defense Education Program, and Manufacturing Science and Technology Program primarily for manufacturing initiatives."  

PROPOSALS REJECTED: While research agencies might cheer the omnibus in private, Congress's treatment of the Education Department's FY 2018 budget amounted to a slap at Secretary Betsy DeVos's agenda. CNN reports that lawmakers turned thumbs down on a number of her proposals, including ones to cut the department's budget by $3.6 billion, funnel more than $1 billion toward private school vouchers and other school choice plans, slash funding for the Office of Civil Rights, and halve federal work-study programs. When DeVos testified before House appropriators on the department's fiscal 2019 budget, subcommittee chair Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said, "I am concerned about the administration continuing to request cuts that Congress has rejected,” according to the Washington Post. Lewis-Burke Associates reports that "e]xchanges between the Secretary and some Democratic members of the committee were heated at times. A recent announcement by the department around state oversight of student loan servicers was strongly condemned by the Ranking Member of the committee, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT)." Cole expressed concerns about proposed cuts to some student financial assistance programs. "Congress is likely to continue its recent trend of bypassing many of the recommendations included in the President’s budget request."

'DREAMERS' STILL IN LIMBO: Democrats had promised to "secure an extension of protections" for immigrants brought into the U.S. illegally as children, the Atlantic reports. "But a trio of factors drained the party of the leverage it once had on immigration. First, Democratic leaders had to retreat barely 48 hours into a government shutdown they caused in January" over lack of a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals bill. Then, a federal judge ordered the Trump administration to continue accepting two-year renewals for DACA, essentially negating the March 5 deadline that Congress was trying to meet. Finally, bipartisan proposals to offer a path to citizenship for so-called Dreamers in exchange for enhanced border security fizzled in the Senate once the Trump administration urged Republicans to oppose them."

A SMALL OPENING: For years, the Centers for Disease Control and other agencies refrained from research on gun violence because of language in annual appropriations bills that "prohibits the CDC and other agencies from using appropriated funding to advocate or promote gun control." But this year, Congress made a point of noting that while the language still stands, it doesn't bar research: According to the omnibus bill, "the Secretary of Health and Human Services has stated the CDC has the authority to conduct research on the causes of gun violence." Whether such research will be funded, by CDC or another agency, remains to be seen.



MUTUAL BENEFIT: A "convergent" National Science Foundation solicitation supports two themes: Foundations for Augmenting Human Cognition, and Embodied Intelligent Cognitive Assistants. Researchers will "consider the importance of understanding, anticipating, and shaping the larger implications at the individual, institutional, corporate, and national levels, including issues arising from the needs or consequences for training and education." Projects should "focus on the potential contribution toward (a) transforming the frontiers of science and technology for human performance augmentation and workplace skill acquisition; (b) improving both worker quality of life and employer financial metrics; (c) enhancing the economic and social well-being of the country; and (d) addressing societal needs through research on learning and instruction in the context of augmentation." Learn more.

Read the second edition of NSF's Transforming the World through Science.

CUTS SOUGHT ANEW FOR FY 2019: Despite Congress's refusal to enact proposed FY 2018 cuts, the Trump administration's Department of Energy budget for the coming fiscal year would cut applied energy programs "significantly, including a 67 percent cut to the $2 billion Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Other offices would receive lesser but still dramatic decreases in funding," the American Institute of Physics' FYI reports.

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY THEFT ALLEGED: The U.S. Justice Department says a new group of Iranian hackers "stole innovative work and intellectual property from the computer systems of 144 American universities, the Labor Department, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the states of Hawaii and Indiana," the New York Times reports. "They also infiltrated the United Nations, 176 universities in 21 countries around the world, and dozens of domestic and foreign companies, some in banking, health care and the law, the officials said."

WHAT'S NEXT IN RECYCLING? The Universities of Utah and Miami secured "foundational projects" in the Reducing EMbodied-Energy And Decreasing Emissions (REMADE) Institute, part of the DOE-backed Sustainable Manufacturing Innovation Alliance. Utah's aims to improve separation "of non-ferrous scrap metals from other non-ferrous metals using electrodynamic sorting (EDX) at high throughput and with greater purity and yield." Miami's will "evaluate the impact of single stream recycling (SSR) on paper contamination in recovery operations and explore emerging recovery processes for minimizing fiber contamination." A Manufacturing USA institute, Rapid Advancement in Process Intensification Deployment (RAPID) plans two calls for proposals in late March - open only to current RAPID members in good standing, who will lead the projects. It says they will result in over $30 million R&D activity during 2018, split between federal funding and cost-share.  



SKILLS DEVELOPMENT AND SOCIAL COHESION: A report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Going for Growth 2018, suggests "governments should concentrate reform efforts around policy packages designed to unlock skills development and innovation capacity, promote business dynamism and the diffusion of knowledge, and preserve social cohesion while helping workers make the most of a dynamic labor market."

WHO'S ANTI-SCIENCE: A study by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences finds that "attitudes toward science are not uniformly associated with one particular demographic group but instead vary based on the specific science issue"; underlying factors, such as group identity, can strongly influence perceptions about science; and "a person’s knowledge of science facts and research is not necessarily predictive of acceptance of the scientific consensus on a particular question. Indeed, for certain subgroups and for certain topics such as climate change, higher levels of science knowledge may even be associated with more-polarized views."

WILL CHINA WIN THE AI RACE? Credit Suisse thinks so, "due to the country's lack of 'serious law' about data protection," CNBC reports. "It would be a challenge for authorities to balance protecting the privacy of tech users (while) not hurting the sector's growth."


The International Council of Academies of Engineering and Technological Sciences (CAETS)  2018 Conference will take place in Montevideo, Uruguay hosted by the National Academy of Engineering of Uruguay (ANIU), from September 11 to 14, 2018 and aims to present the state of the art of engineering and agriculture and forestry sustainability and, at the same time, offers wide opportunities for debate and discussion on how innovations will contribute to the advancement of the agriculture and forestry products chain in a sustainable manner. Further information as well as the call for papers, schedule, and registration information are available at this link: http://caets2018.aniu.org.uy/

ASEE IS CO-HOSTING the First Annual CoNECD (Collaborative Network for Engineering and Computing Diversity - pronounced “connected”) Conference April 29 to May 1. It will be a forum on enhancing diversity and inclusion of underrepresented groups in engineering and computing. CoNECD will encompass many diverse groups, including those based on gender (including gender identity and gender expression), race and ethnicity, disability, veterans, LGBTQ+, 1st generation and socio-economic status. It's a collaboration of ASEE's Minorities in Engineering and Women in Engineering divisions and several outside groups. Registration is now open. Find out more.

LETTER SUPPORTING SCHOLARLY RESEARCH ON DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION IN STEM: Over the past year, there has been a proliferation of targeted attacks on scholarly work that addresses diversity and inclusion in STEM education, including work in engineering education specifically. Many of these attacks have appeared on conservative outlets and in broader alt-right media and social media networks. When specific faculty members are targeted, they and their colleagues are often subject to harassing and threatening calls, emails, tweets, and more. ASEE supports our members and all academic researchers in the face of these attacks on academic freedom. Read the full statement here.

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FIRE UP THE FUTURE WITH eGFI: Filled with engaging features, gorgeous graphics, and useful information about engineering colleges and careers, the latest edition of ASEE's award-winning Engineering, Go For It is sure to get your students excited about learning - and doing - engineering!

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