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March 25, 2017



"Republicans see tough work ahead on spending and budget negotiations," CQ reports. Tests facing House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and fellow GOP leaders in coming weeks include funding the government beyond April 28, when the current stopgap spending law expires; completing fiscal 2017 appropriations; raising the sequester-level caps to allow more spending for defense; and adoption of a fiscal 2018 budget. President Trump has asked for another $30 billion for the Pentagon this fiscal year, paired with $18 billion in domestic cuts. That kind of packaging, defense analyst Loren Thompson writes in Forbes, is "even less politically palatable than breaking the budget caps on defense. . . . End result: the Pentagon isn't going to get much of the increase the administration is seeking for the current fiscal year." Looking toward negotiations over the FY 2018 budget, "Senate Democrats will insist on parity between increases in defense and nondefense discretionary spending," Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a member of both Budget and Appropriations committees, tells CQ.

NO REPEAL OF MEDICAL DEVICE TAX: When House Republicans gave up their bid to repeal and replace Obamacare, they killed at least one provision that held some appeal for engineering researchers. That provision would have repealed a 2.3 percent excise tax on sales of medical devices. Although the tax was enacted as part of the Affordable Care Act, it is not currently in effect. According to the National Law Review: "In December 2015, President Obama signed into law a two-year moratorium on the medical device excise tax as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016. The moratorium is set to expire on December 31, 2017." 

HEAT EXCHANGE: Prominent academics with competing views on human causes of climate change will square off March 29 before the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. Judith Curry, professor emerita at Georgia Tech, "occasionally mocks what she calls 'climate alarmists' who say time is almost out unless humanity weans itself off fossil fuels," according to E&E News. She has in the past criticized a second witness, Michael Mann (below right), a professor at Penn State. His book, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars (see Prism review) recounts his struggle as a target of climate-change deniers. Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), a harsh critic of the Obama administration's climate policies, looks forward to the hearing as "such fun," reports ScienceInsider.

CORRECTING THE RECORD: In the second of two hearings on the National Science Foundation, Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.) revealed that the agency's inspector general, Allison Lerner, had admitted that her testimony two weeks earlier contained an error. She had stated there were 175 cases of research misconduct reported over the last 4 years when in fact there were 75. Lipinski also took issue with Lerner's claim that there had been a “significant increase” in the number of substantial allegations of research misconduct. From the data, "it would be very hard to discern any clear trend over the last decade, let alone a significant increase," Lipinski said. "When it comes to actual agency findings of misconduct, the average is 2.6 per year over 12 years and 3.2 over the last 5 years." Read ScienceInsider's account.

REPUBLICAN PRIORITIES for science agency funding next year are spelled out in a Views and Estimates letter from the House Science Committee to the Budget Committee. As spelled out by the American Institute of Physics' FYI newsletter, they include: "requiring 70 percent of the National Science Foundation’s research funds be allocated to four of its six directorates (Mathematical and Physical Sciences, Engineering, Biological Sciences, and Computer & Information Science & Engineering); shifting funds from the Department of Energy’s Biological and Environmental Research program to the Office of Science’s other research programs; cutting at least $750 million from DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy; transferring $471 million from NASA’s Earth Science Division to the agency’s other science divisions and its human space exploration program; prioritizing weather research at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and reducing support for its climate change-related programs; increasing support for the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s research and facilities accounts by reducing support for its industrial technology services account; and making funding for U.S. Global Change Research Program activities contingent on a determination that the research is not duplicative or wasteful." 

USEFUL BACKGROUND on congressional funding of research and development can be found in "Science and Technology Issues in the 115th Congress." 


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


WHITE HOUSE DUSTS OFF FURLOUGH GUIDANCE: The Trump administration "appears to be gearing up" for possible furloughs at government agencies after April 28, when the current federal spending bill expires, Government Executive reports. "In updated guidance dated March 2017, the Office of Personnel Management issued clarification for agencies on the procedures for implementing administrative furloughs. The guidance was last updated in June 2013." Furloughs could be triggered if Congress adopts the $18 billion in domestic spending cuts the White House has proposed to balance increases for defense. Read the document.

ONWARD AND UPWARD: Seemingly undaunted by the threat of budget cuts, the Department of Energy's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy division is forging ahead. Its Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO) has extended the public comment period for a Multi-Year Program Plan (MYPP), which "proposes technology goals and metrics for (research, development, and demonstration) in areas with the potential to significantly improve manufacturing energy efficiency and minimize the life-cycle energy of manufactured products. . .  The resulting RD&D would be broadly applicable, but target advancements where technical uncertainty is too great for the private sector to support alone." The AMO has also issued a funding opportunity in three topic areas: advanced materials; advanced processes; and modeling and analysis tools for materials and manufacturing. According to a January webinar, "EERE expects to make approximately $35,000,000 of Federal funding available for new awards under this FOA subject to the availability of appropriated funds." Applications are due March 30.


GOOGLE PARTNERS WITH LEADING HBCU: Howard University will launch "Howard West," a three-month, summer computer science residency for rising juniors and seniors with workspace at Google's Mountain View headquarters and a stipend to cover housing and other expenses. Learn more.



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.

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.