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July 22, 2017



Abandoning hope of passing a 12-bill omnibus appropriations package before their August recess, House GOP leaders plan in the coming week to bring up a so-called minibus (see text) containing: the $658 billion FY 2018 Defense spending bill; the $37.5 Energy-Water measure; the $88.8 billion Military Construction and Veterans Affairs bill; and the $3.58 Legislative Branch bill. The package will also include $1.6 billion for President Trump's proposed wall along the Mexican border, an addition that House Democrats want voted on separately, CQ says. Bloomberg BNA reports: "Republican leaders determined that an omnibus containing all 12 (appropriations) bills wouldn’t have sufficient votes to pass the House. The fallback plan was to just advance bills focused on military and security programs that are popular in the GOP conference." House Appropriations chair Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) "said he still is committed to advancing all 12 bills this year." Senate appropriators, meanwhile, passed their version of the Energy-Water bill (details below) and plan to finish work on the Commerce, Justice, Science measure next week. The latter contains money for the National Science Foundation, NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Photo: Marshall Astor, Wikimedia Commons

STILL NO BUDGET: Spending bills in both chambers exceed caps imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act. These higher numbers will mean nothing without a deal to bypass the BCA and remove the threat of sequestration, such as the agreement reached for the remainder of 2017 and in previous budget cycles. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), ranking Democrat on Appropriations, says: "Simply put, we cannot, and will not, finish the appropriations process without a bipartisan budget agreement.”The money puzzle also includes the need to raise the debt ceiling and avoid default. Such must-pass legislation can be seized upon by various factions to advance an ideological cause.

SALUTE TO DEFENSE R&D: Authorizing $3.3 billion more than requested by the Pentagon for research, development, testing, and evaluation, the Senate Armed Services Committee's FY 2018 defense bill supports the Third Offset Strategy, Manufacturing USA Institutes, manufacturing engineering education, and former Defense Secretary Ashton Carter's high-tech DIUx initiative. But the measure faults "an increasingly restrictive set of rules and regulations imposed by the Department itself." The panel wants "more flexible mechanisms for the DOD to access technical expertise at U.S. universities" in such areas as cybersecurity, explosives detection, modeling and simulation, microelectronics, unmanned systems, advanced materials, and machine learning. It also urges a clear distinction between R&D and contracted services. (See a summary.)

The panel's report contains a long series of often detailed instructions, including these:

BOLSTERING EDUCATION: "[M]anufacturing engineering education is critically important to sustaining and advancing the manufacturing industrial base," which "needs to be revitalized," the panel says, authorizing $94.3 million for the effort. The committee also provides $27.9 million for the training and education in STEM fields of minority women at historically black colleges and universities, "particularly through research funding, fellowships, and internships and cooperative work experiences at Defense laboratories." Finding a bright spot in K-12 education, the committee notes a striking improvement in advanced-placement scores among military schools that adopted "innovative and evidence-based efforts" to improve STEM learning.  

MORE ON MANUFACTURING: The Manufacturing Extension Partnerships program "could . . . play a pivotal role in ensuring the success of the Manufacturing Institutes by using its dense network of small business relationships to promote exposure, networking, and collaboration between small manufacturers, the MEP centers and the regional institutes of Manufacturing USA," the report says.

INSTITUTE STRIFE: While Manufacturing USA institutes "represent a valuable research and development resource that the Department should be using to advance its manufacturing technology agenda," all is not well. Companies are reluctant to join if it means sharing competitive intellectual property and, if they join, may be constrained from generating needed distinctive technology. "The committee recommends that the Joint Defense Manufacturing Technology Panel become an active participant in guiding the Department’s work and engagement with the institutes and the metrics that are developed to assess them."

CLIMATE THREAT: The report cites numerous instances of damage to military facilities from climate-related events and wants the Pentagon to come back with a "comprehensive threat assessment and implementation master plan no later than March 1, 2018 on the risks and vulnerabilities to DOD missions and infrastructure." 

WATER FROM AIR: MIT researchers have developed "a small device that harvests an individual’s daily drinking water requirement from the atmosphere in arid environments, with no energy input other than natural sunlight," the committee marvels. The defense secretary is instructed to "submit a technology roadmap to address capability gaps for water production, treatment, and purification and a comprehensive water strategy addressing research, acquisition, training, and organizational issues" by next May.

CHEAPER MEDICAL TECHNOLOGY: The committee directs the DOD "to authorize third parties to use inventions that benefited from DOD funding whenever the price of a drug, vaccine, or other medical technology is higher in the United States than the median price charged in the seven largest economies that have a per capita income at least half the per capita income of the United States."

YES TO RENEWABLES AND ARPA-E; NO (AGAIN) TO ITER: The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved the Energy and Water spending bill that emerged from a panel chaired by Sen.Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), working closely with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). The bill rejects the Trump administration's deep cut to the Department of Energy's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy program. while trimming it slightly. It calls a plan to eliminate the Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (a plan also supported by the House) "shortsighted," and increases the ARPA-E budget. The panel also rejects the proposed termination of both the Center for Functional Nanomaterials and the Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies. Here are some highlights from the appropriators' report:

CLEAN ENERGY: The Committee recommends $167.5 million for solar; $72.5 million for wind; and $82 million for water power. Contrary to the administration's shift to early-stage R&D, it says "such an approach will not successfully integrate the results of early-stage research and development into the U.S. energy system."  

EFRCs: Energy Frontier Research Centers would get $110 million "to continue multi-disciplinary, fundamental research needed to address scientific grand challenges."

ENERGY STORAGE: In a slap at the administration, the panel says it "understands the Department has either delayed or does not intend to initiate a renewal for the Batteries and Energy Storage Hub, the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research [JCESR]. The Committee directs the Department to move forward with the review and renewal process to support the next 5-year charter for next-generation battery and storage technologies" and provides $24 million for the hub.

FUSION: While providing $232 million for fusion, the panel seeks once again to zero out America's contribution to the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor being built in France. With House support, ITER has survived in the past.

NEW TECHNOLOGIES: The committee says bioenergy with carbon capture sequestration [BECCS] "has technical potential to provide a significant portion of the world’s energy supply by the end of the century. If commercialized further, BECCS could be a baseload electricity resource with a net-negative carbon emission profile." The panel also provides $85 million for hydrogen and fuel-cell technologies. It tells the department to "sustain the investment in development of algal biofuels," including R&D by university- or industry-ed consortia.

UNIVERSITY PARTNERSHIPS: The committee calls on DOE to identify strategic laboratory, university, and industry partnerships that would enhance national security and assist industry in addressing critical threats, including electromagnetic pulse, geomagnetic disturbances, cyber-attacks, and supply chain disruptions. The panel "continues to encourage the Department to establish university partnerships to support ongoing fossil energy programs, to promote broader research into CCS technologies, and to expand its technology transfer efforts."


INCLUDE MORE: The National Science Foundation's Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science (INCLUDES) seeks to develop "science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) talent from all sectors and groups in our society. NSF is currently focusing on and identifying novel ways in which new and currently-funded NSF projects from across all NSF directorates can engage with the NSF INCLUDES National Network. We have called this process building ’on-ramps’ to the NSF INCLUDES National Network. To do this, we encourage the submission of funding requests for i) Early-concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER), ii) Conferences and Workshops, and iii) Supplements to existing NSF-funded grants." Learn more. See a video. Read NSF Director France Córdova's speech at ASEE's Annual Conference. 

MASTER's LEVEL TRAINING: The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s (EERE) Advanced Manufacturing Office - within the Department of Energy - has $2.5 million "to support university-led traineeship programs that address workforce training needs in the early-stage technology area of advanced materials and process technologies in energy-related manufacturing. EERE will competitively select U.S.-based institutions of higher education to implement masters-level training programs designed to train a new generation of advanced manufacturing engineers to fill workforce needs across industry, national labs, and universities." Learn more. The Advanced Manufacturing Office is holding a workshop in Pittsburgh "to bring together leading scientific and technical experts to discuss opportunities for advancing the state of the art of artificial intelligence (AI) applied to materials design and discovery in energy and other materials areas." Find out more


Graphic by Jennifer Pocock; source: National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NSF). Click here for a larger version.


AND THE WINNERS ARE . . . This week, students from around the world met in Washington, D.C. for the Global Grand Challenges Summit, put on by the National Academy of Engineering and its counterparts in the United Kingdom and China. Teams presented their innovative business ideas to address the Grand Challenges in an international competition. Worldcare Technologies, the first-place winners from UC San Diego, received $25,000 for their safe, affordable, HIV viral-load testing product. A team from Bournemouth University in the UK won second place with Morwater, a cheap but highly effective water filter. Shanghai University won third place with Dream House, an energy-saving window film. There was also a poster competition for students to present their research. Winners’ research ranged from wireless electric car charging to virtual reality-enhanced stroke rehabilitation. Read more. - Jennifer Pocock

At the U.S. Global Grand Challenges Summit, student business teams present their prototypes, including second-place winner Morwater (far left) and third-place winner Dream House (center). Photo: Jennifer Pocock


NOMINATE A YOUNG SUPERSTAR: Prism magazine plans a repeat of its widely read "20 Under 40" issue, highlighting especially talented engineering and engineering technology teachers and researchers. Please send your nominations and a brief description of the nominees' achievements to m.matthews@asee.org with "20 under 40" in the message line. Note: Choices will be based on both accomplishments and variety.

STUDENT COLUMNIST SOUGHT: Prism's current millennial voice, Mel Chua, has earned a Ph.D. and so is no longer a student. She leaves big shoes to fill. We're looking for an engineering student who writes with skill, flair, and attitude, and who can back up a point of view with evidence. We pay a modest honorarium. Students should send a resume and writing samples to m.matthews@asee.org.

LIVABLE CITIES: The 55th International Making Cities Livable Conference (not affiliated with ASEE) is holding a competition entitled Designing Healthy, 10-Minute Neighborhoods. Projects that emphasize Community, Health, Sustainability, and Equity are actively sought, and will be given particular consideration. Deadline: October 31, 2017 Submitted projects do not have to be complete plans. Learn more.