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March 17, 2017



In fiscal year 2016, the National Institutes of Health paid $6.4 billion for overhead university and research institute overhead, along with $16.9 billion in direct research costs. ScienceInsider reports that part of the Trump administration's 18 percent cut in the fiscal 2018 budget for NIH may involve a reduction in what the government is willing to pay for these so-called indirect costs. That might explain this sentence in the budget sent to Capitol Hill Thursday by Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, shown at left in an appearance on MSNBC: “The Budget also reduces administrative costs and rebalances Federal contributions to research funding.”

NEUTRAL TO NEGATIVE: That appears to be the range of reactions to the Trump budget from leading House appropriators. Rep Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), appropriations chair, said:  "Our Committee will take a close look at the budget and supplemental requests . . . . As directed under the Constitution, Congress has the power of the purse. While the president may offer proposals, Congress must review both requests to assure the wise investment of taxpayer dollars." Rep. Harold Rogers, (R-Ky.), past chair, was harsher. “While we have a responsibility to reduce our federal deficit, I am disappointed that many of the reductions and eliminations proposed in the president’s skinny budget are draconian, careless and counterproductive,” the New York Times quoted him as saying.

Noting the hefty hike budgeted for nuclear security at the Department of Energy, House Energy-Water Appropriations Chair Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) said, according to CQ, “[T]hey plus-ed up the defense part of it by over a billion dollars, which means the half of it, which is the energy stuff, was substantially cut.” He apparently referred to the $900 cut to the Office of Science and a $2 billion cut across the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the Office of Nuclear Energy, the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, and the Fossil Energy Research and Development program.

INSTITUTIONAL PROTEST: "This budget proposal would cripple American innovation and economic growth. The President’s FY18 budget proposes deep cuts to vital scientific research at the National Institutes of Health, Department of Energy, NASA, NOAA, and other critical scientific agencies," said Association of American Universities President Mary Sue Coleman. "For decades, federal investments in these areas have paid enormous dividends in medical advancements, new technologies, and enhanced national security, and helped to produce high-wage American jobs and the most talented workforce in the world." The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities reacted in similar fashion: The administration's blueprint, said President Peter McPherson, "would have devastating short and long-term consequences for the United States and the American people. . . . We want to work with the administration and Congress for an outcome that will protect research and higher education programs, which are key ingredients for economic growth and have traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support."

LIKELY OUTCOME? MORE STOPGAPS: CQ, which covered a panel of budget experts, reported: "When taken as a whole — the requested changes to fiscal 2017 and deep cuts to some popular programs in fiscal 2018 — the panelists said the sharp divide between Republicans and Democrats in Congress could increase the likelihood that Congress uses continuing resolutions not only to finish out the 2017 fiscal year, but to fund fiscal 2018 and possibly more."


Graphic by Jennifer Pocock. Source: National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. Click here for a larger, interactive version. 


WORTH A DAM: The House Energy subcommittee​ is trying to boost enthusiasm for hydropower, which its chairman, Fred Upton (R-Mich.), hails as "clean, affordable, and reliable."  A Department of Energy report says hydropower production could grow by almost 50 percent by 2050. But the average age of the nation's dams is 52 years, just a tiny fraction produce power, and the approval process is lengthy and complex. Chuck Hookham, representing the American Society of Civil Engineers, told the panel that two DOE recommendations make sense: "[U]pgrade performance of existing hydroelectric generation, and . . . utilize current non-power dams, canals, and conduits (e.g., irrigation) for new generation."

LOSING GROUND IN GRAPHENE: "The U.S. is no longer leading in graphene research and has already lost in graphene production capabilities." James Tour, professor of chemistry, computer science, materials science and nanoengineering at Rice University, told the House Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection Subcommittee. Tour, who holds 112 patents on the material he says is "tops for toughness, heat conduction, electrical mobility and light weight," added: "U.S. universities are way behind Asian universities in high tech equipment for nanoanalysis. . . .I often collaborate with researchers in Asia, not for their talent, but to secure access to their equipment." At a hearing on advanced materials, Afsaneh Rabiei (in photo), mechanical engineering professor at North Carolina State, described her lab's development of composite metal foams, or CMFs, that are capable of blocking bullets, X-rays, gamma rays, and radiation (see a First Look item​ in Prism). Hota GangaRao, professor of civil engineering at West Virginia University, spoke of the "paradigm shift in material usage" offered by fiber-reinforced polymer composites. 


A LONG ROAD AHEAD: Concluding a workshop on regenerative medicine, Harvard Medical School Dean George Daley said cell-based approaches are unlikely to change medical care drastically in the near term, but "the field holds great promise for transformation in the long-term," according to a new Academies report. "Finding, characterizing, and growing the right cell is a decades-long investment, he said." A related challenge is "identifying the right time for the clinical translation of new research. Because the research and development pathway is still unclear for the field, there is a risk of premature clinical translation."

UNCERTAIN I.T. IMPACT: "Policy makers and researchers would benefit significantly from a better understanding of evolving (information technology) options and their implications for the workforce. In particular, (1) sustained, integrated, multidisciplinary research and (2) improved, ongoing tracking of workforce and technology developments would be of great value," says an Academies report on IT and the workforce. Research should target "the understanding of how technology choices can affect the workforce to improve the design of policies and technologies that will benefit workers, the economy, and society at large; [e]mphasize feedback between micro- and macro-level research methods . . . ; (and) [e]stablish and facilitate the use of new data sources, tools, methods, and infrastructure to support such research while protecting privacy,"


LIBERAL STUDIES IN ENGINEERING: Founded by Harvard University and MIT in 2012, edX is an online learning destination and MOOC provider, offering high-quality courses from the world’s best universities and institutions to learners everywhere. With NSF and Teagle Foundation support, Professor Louis Bucciarelli, MIT, has posted four Liberal Studies in Engineering modules on the edX Edge platform, which can be accessed here.

ASEE hosts a number of case studies on this topic, a project also supported by Teagle. View them here.

PUBLIC POLICY COLLOQUIUM PRESENTATIONS NOW ONLINE: Click here for all materials from the two-day meeting of engineering deans.


The annual ASEE Engineering Deans Institute (EDI) provides an opportunity for engineering deans- and only deans- to gather and discuss the crucial issues facing their schools, colleges, and profession. For a few days, a single-stream program fosters dialogue between deans, industry leaders, and those in important roles in research and government. Deans share best practices, learn about career prospects for their graduates, and develop a voice for engineering education and the role of engineering in society. Social activities and plenty of time for conversation encourage the cultivation of relationships and an intensely rewarding experience. Click here for more information.

PRISM PODCASTS: Listen to the podcasts here.

Prize-winning eGFI:  Get teens fired up about engineering with eGFI (Engineering, Go For It), ASEE's magazine for middle and high school students. Winner of the APEX Grand Award for Publication Excellence, eGFI combines engaging features, gorgeous graphics, and useful information about engineering colleges and careers. Click here to purchase copies, For bulk purchases or other inquiries, contact eGFI@asee.org or call 202-331-3500.