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May 13, 2017



The White House plans on "doubling down on cuts to domestic agencies," in its Fiscal 2018 budget, AP reports. The blueprint is expected to be rolled out May 23. Although the Trump administration accepted Congress's compromise FY 2017 spending bill - which rejected severe cuts to research agencies - Budget Director Mick Mulvaney signaled that the next round of the budget fight may be different. “This president is willing to think outside the box," and is frustrated with the appropriations process, he said on CBS. “If that comes to a shutdown in September, so be it," Bloomberg quotes him as saying.

The administration's initial blueprint in March called for eliminating 19 agencies, slashing $5.8 billion from the National Institutes of Health, $900 million from the Energy Department's Office of Science, and $2 billion from other DOE programs.

SEQUESTER SHADOW: Neither House nor Senate has passed a budget resolution. There are ways to work around this problem to pass appropriations bills, but "there's a big hitch," CQ reports. "Under the Budget Control Act, which brought about sequestration spending cuts, the committees will have to work with discretionary spending levels at $1.065 trillion — a $5 billion cut over this fiscal year. . . . That is, unless, Congress can pass another bipartisan budget deal to either repeal the spending caps, which extend through 2021, or raise the caps."

'COME IN ON MERIT': In an interview with the Economist, President Trump denied looking to reduce the numbers of legal immigrants. "But I want people to come in on merit. I want to go to a merit-based system. Actually two countries that have very strong systems are Australia and Canada. And I like those systems very much, they're very strong,  I absolutely want talented  people coming in, I  want people that are going to love our country coming in, I want people that are going to contribute to our country coming in. . . . Now they're going to be much more strongly vetted as you see."

OVERARCHING TRENDS: Steven Walker, acting director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, identified arttificial intelligence and the "human-machine interface" as "two powerful, overarching technology trends (that) are fueling many of DARPA’s fastest-advancing programs." In recent Senate testimony, he said AI and machine learning "are serving as an accelerator and force multiplier in diverse areas of research, from information processing to electronics to neuroscience," helping researchers overcome the problem of an overabundance of data." Meanwhile, "a blend of biocompatible electrode arrays and sophisticated software . . . is making the human-machine interface ever more seamless," introducing "a mix of novel opportunities . . . " 

SHADES OF NIXON-ERA RESCISSIONS? In response to former President Richard Nixon's refusal to spend funds appropriated for programs he deemed unnecessary, Congress enacted the Impoundment Control Act of 1974, requiring a president to seek explicit approval from Congress for a rescission. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Tex.), invoked that law this week to prod the Department of Energy to spend research-grant money appropriated for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). In a letter to Comptroller General Gene Dodaro, Johnson wrote: "You are authorized by this law to bring civil actions to compel the Executive Branch to make available for obligation any budget authority made pursuant to law." Although the agency has pledged to “honor all commitments for funds previously obligated for grants and cooperative agreements,” Johnson said: "My understanding is that upwards of $40 million of FY2016 monies remain unobligated despite project awardees having already been selected and in many cases publicly announced for those dedicated funds."  Read Jeff Mervis's report in Science

OUR MISTAKE: Last week's Capitol Shorts stated that the recently enacted Omnibus appropriations measure provided increases for Pentagon basic research.  Actually, the bill provided increases over what the Obama administration had requested, not over previously appropriated amounts. As AIP's FYI noted, Pentagon basic research actually came in 1.4 percent lower than its FY 2016 enacted level.

MADE-UP STUFF: National Science Foundation Inspector General Allison Lerner, right, says her staff is having to spend "a great deal of time and energy" on alleged falsification and fabrication cases. "We've always had a steady diet of plagiarism allegations, but we’re getting a steady diet of falsification and fabrication issues as well," she told the National Science Board. These pose a more difficult challenge to investigators than plagiarism. As for the latter, her office is seeing "frequently plagiarism involving PIs (principal investigators). . . too often we are hearing in response that people didn’t know that they had to attribute in certain portions of a proposal - it’s kind of basic." See videos from the NSB meeting.

PLAYING DOWN CLEAN ENERGY? ScienceInsider reports that the National Science Board is "considering whether to revise a portion" of its biannual Science and Engineering Indicators "because it might be seen as out of step with the new administration’s views on renewable energy research." Jeff Mervis quotes board member G. P. (Bud) Peterson as saying: “Given the current climate—I mean, political situation—in Washington, I’m wondering whether highlighting [clean energy] is something we still want to do.” The rationale for reducing emphasis might be that clean energy is no longer a "new and emerging topic,” as it was when it was first highlighted in 2012. 

CAREER WEBINAR: The CAREER working group at the National Science Foundation's Education and Human Resources directorate "is hosting a webinar to answer participants' questions about developing and submitting proposals to the NSF Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER)" in EHR. Learn more.


Graphic by Jennifer Pocock. Find a larger, interactive version here. 


GOOD TIMING? Six days before release of the Trump administration's FY 2018 budget, Francis Collins, right, and other top officials of the National Institutes of Health will appear before House appropriators at a hearing entitled "Advances in Biomedical Research." At an earlier hearing, their boss, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, suggested NIH-funded research costs could be reduced by cutting overhead payments.

GETTING THERE: Mykel Kochenderfer, of Stanford's Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, will testify this coming week at another appropriations hearing, this one entitled, Emerging Transportation Technologies. A second witness, RAND Corp. expert Nidhi Kalra, testified before the Senate in February about the challenges that must be overcome before widespread use of autonomous vehicles.



SMOOTHING THE PATHWAY:  The Michael and Susan Dell Foundation is funding the nonprofit Education Design Lab to help four pairs of community colleges and four-year institutions develop "customized sets of proven interventions to get more transfer students to graduation," Inside Higher Ed reports. The lab says the odds currently are stacked against students transferring from community colleges, with just 17 percent earning a bachelor's degree within six years of transferring. 


DROWNING IN NOISE: Marine mammals face many challenges in their environment, including the loss of that environment. Approaches to Understanding the Cumulative Effects of Stressors on Marine Mammals explores many of these, including man-made stressors like infrastructure and sea-faring vehicles. This report will help engineers better understand how their work affects the marine environment. Read more here.

A LEG UP: “The U.S. Census Bureau has reported that 56.7 million Americans had some type of disability in 2010, which represents 18.7 percent of the civilian noninstitutionalized population included in the 2010 Survey of Income and Program Participation.” The Promise of Assistive Technology to Enhance Activity and Work Participation analyzes assistive products ranging from wheeled devices for better mobility to prostheses and tech that aids in communication, like hearing and speech devices. Read about them here.


SOCIETY HONORS USC: ASEE will present its “President’s Award” to the University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering at the organization’s annual conference in June. The award will be accepted by Dean Yannis C. Yortsos.  The award is presented in honor of efforts by Yortsos and Viterbi to promote ASEE’s Deans Diversity Pledge and Yortsos’ subsequent presentation to the White House, in August of 2015, of a signed pledge from nearly 150 deans. (As of this writing, the pledge has nearly 210 signatories.)

SIGN UP FOR NETI: There are still a few openings for the advanced National Effective Teaching Institute (NETI-2), which will be offered June 23-24, 2017 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Columbus, OH.  Drs. Susan Lord, Matt Ohland, and Michael Prince will lead each workshop. See the outline here. Topics to be covered are listed on the accompanying outlines. Participants for the NETI workshop will include 50 faculty members from all branches of engineering and engineering technology. The $1,050 registration fee covers organization and presentation costs, participant notebooks, breakfasts, lunches, and breaks. Attendees' institutions are expected to cover the participants' expenses for transportation, lodging, and one meal per day. If you have any administrative questions, please contact Heather Deale at ASEE headquarters via email (h.deale@asee.org).  For questions about the workshop content, please contact Dr. Michael Prince at prince@bucknell.edu



THE SIXTH ANNUAL ASEE INTERNATIONAL FORUM will be held on Wednesday, June 28th, 2017 on the final day of ASEE’s Annual Conference in Columbus, OH. The International Forum brings together engineering professionals from academia and industry from around the globe who are engaged in novel engineering education initiatives to share information on successful models, experiences and best practices. The keynote speaker will be Dr. Mike Murphy, dean of the College of Engineering and Built Environment, Dublin Institute of Technology.  Click here for more information.

NEW PODCAST - The Play’s the Thing: Why were actors on the stage at the ASEE Engineering Deans Institute in April? Click here to listen.

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.