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June 26, 2015



While proposing to cut the overall Department of Human Services budget, the Senate Appropriations Committee raised National Institutes of Health funding to $32 billion for FY 2016, "the largest increase . . . since its doubling ended in 2003," benefiting "every institute and center." Included is $200 million for Precision Medicine and $135 million for the BRAIN initiative. Read the committee summary and ScienceInsider's account

RAIL SAFETY: Senate appropriators proposed $288 million, $12 million above current spending, "for rail safety and research programs, including inspectors and training."

FIELDS AND FOOD:  A draft House Agriculture appropriations bill "provides $2.7 billion for agriculture research programs, including the Agricultural Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture." Research will "help mitigate and stop devastating crop diseases, improve food safety and water quality, and combat antimicrobial resistance." A summary says the bill "includes important research investments in U.S. land-grant colleges and universities."

Note to readers: Capitol Shorts will not be published next week.

'CLEAR CONFLICTS OF INTEREST': Actions by a National Science Foundation rotator prompted the office of Inspector General Allison Lerner, left, to recommend suspension of three grants, according to a House Science, Space, and Technology Committee hearing charter. Testifying before the panel, Lerner said the rotator reviewed several proposals from her home institution. In one, "for which she wrote the letter of support, she had also recently collaborated with the PI and co-PI." NSF's actions once it became aware of the situation were "seriously flawed." The IG recommends changes in the rotator program. Besides better policing of potential conflicts, they include such cost-saving measures as limiting annualization of salaries "to the federal pay rate for that position" -- often below what rotators get -- and "reviewing fringe benefit rates that exceed an amount determined by NSF."

CAR TALK: Peter Sweatman, director of the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute, told a House Energy and Commerce panel that vehicle-to-vehicle communication, or V2X, will "transform the safety of our nation’s surface transportation system." The "ecosystem" involved in development "includes automakers and Tier 1 suppliers, traffic control and sensor suppliers, aftermarket suppliers, insurance, telecommunications, big data, IT and mobility services." Federal support is needed for cyber security, guidelines for access and privacy, standards for aftermarket devices, and local deployment, "with the expectation that local sources will step up over time."



Source: NASA


Source: Coalition for National Security Research


S-STEM REDUX: The National Science Foundation has released a new program solicitation for Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (S-STEM).  Learn more.

ALL-INCLUSIVE: Efforts to broaden participation in engineering drew considerable attention at the Spring, 2015 meeting of the NSF Engineering Directorate's advisory committee, according to the minutes. One focus was Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners that have been Underrepresented for Diversity in Engineering and Science (INCLUDES), budgeted for $15 million in FY 2016. A budget document says it is "designed to mobilize the STEM communities to bring renewed focus to solving broadening participation (BP) challenges by addressing a set of 'bold visions for inclusion' at the national level, collectively." AdCom members "expressed concern" that NSF’s efforts were directed "far after the critical time for influencing students, which research shows to be from third through eighth grade."

Another topic of the meeting, chaired by Lehigh University Provost Patrick Farrell (right), was whether NSF-funded researchers are able to work with the best people outside the United States. "Principal investigators forge the majority of international relationships based on their own preferences." Funding rules, it was suggested, "can affect the ability of investigators and NSF program directors to forge and maintain partnerships."


SOFT SKILLS DEBATE: In a letter a cited in a lead Inside Higher Ed article, ASEE's Liberal Education/Engineering and Society Division writes that it "is deeply concerned about changes proposed in ABET Criteria 3 and 5, changes that run counter to the longstanding consensus, recognized in the Washington Accord, that engineers must be able to communicate well, practice professional responsibility, understand societal and global contexts of their work, and engage in lifelong learning."

AVOIDING MISCONDUCT: "Universities should insist that their faculties and students are schooled in the ethics of research, their publications feature neither honorific nor ghost authors, their public information offices avoid hype in publicizing findings, and suspect research is promptly and thoroughly investigated." -- National Academy of Sciences President Ralph Cicerone and others, writing in Science


RESEARCH IS 'CRITICAL': In the second of two reports, a National Academies panel says that if carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere is to be deployed, "it is critical to embark now on a research program to lower the technical barriers to efficacy and affordability. In the end, any actions to decrease the excess burden of atmospheric CO2 serve to decrease, or at least slow the onset of, the risks posed by climate change."


VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS FROM ASEE's ANNUAL CONFERENCE: Harvey Mudd President Maria Klawe's plenary talk; interview with ASEE President Joe Rencis.