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                                                         February 8, 2020  



The Trump administration has failed in its bid to shrink the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy by 80 percent. But it may have curbed EERE's effectiveness by other means. "[I]t seems that EERE has been slow to spend,".Rep. Bill Foster (D-I(ll.), a physicist who chairs the House Science investigations subcommittee, said in opening a hearing. EERE carried over $823 million -- more than a third of its FY 2019 budget -- into the current fiscal year. The agency also "canceled a $46 million grant days before award finalists were to be announced," Foster added, after political officials circumvented career staff and decided to rewrite and reissue it. In addition, "EERE staff levels have severely dropped since 2017, despite Congress providing more money for salaries and benefits." Similar sluggish spending is evident at the Advanced Research Programs Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), which the administration unsuccessfully sought to eliminate. Engineer Arjun Krishnaswami of the Natural Resources Defense Council told Foster's panel that "as of the beginning of December 2018, two months after the end of FY18, ARPA-E had not spent 79 percent of its FY18 budget" and was still allocating FY18 funds at the end of January 2019. Defending DOE, Assistant Secretary Daniel Simmons (near right image, above) said that in the current fiscal year, "EERE has instituted a more rigorous scenario planning process to reconcile conflicting House and Senate marks in order to mitigate delay in finalizing our [funding opportunity] topics." As a result, DOE in January "announced nearly $300 million in funding for research and development of sustainable transportation resources and technologies." He added: "One of my top priorities upon confirmation was to address the staffing needs within EERE." See a committee staff report.

IF IT AIN'T BROKE . . . Dawn Tilbury, assistant director for engineering at the National Science Foundation, gently pushed back against some provisions in H.R. 3774, a bipartisan measure introduced last July to improve the federal Small Business Innovation Research and Technology Transfer (SBIR-STTR) programs. Two sections give "high priority" to manufacturing R&D and cybersecurity. "NSF appreciates the flexibilities provided by the current program," she said, but "by concentrating funding in selected areas, other meritorious proposals would go unfunded and lead to fewer innovations." On adding a third phase of funding for awardees, she pointed out that Phase IIB already "helps bridge the gap in funding between Phase II and ultimate commercialization." As for a section calling for increased outreach to historically black colleges and universities and Hispanic-serving institutions, Tilbury cited "multiple" existing outreach efforts to underrepresented groups: Accelerating Women And under-Represented Entrepreneurs (AWARE); Culturally Relevant Enterprise Development (CRED); and Innovative Postdoctoral Entrepreneurial Research Fellowship (I-PERF), a NSF-ASEE partnership "to support underrepresented scientists and engineers in postdoctoral fellowships in startups." However, Science Committee Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Tex.) indicated more may be needed. The National Academies found that "agencies were doing a good job in meeting the statutory goals, except when it came to achieving increased women and minority participation in SBIR and STTR." The status quo, she said, "is not good enough." 

START-UP SIZZLE: Johnny Park, (above) whose career began in electrical and computer engineering research at Purdue, offered his own experience as "compelling evidence" of the SBIR program's value. His firm, Spensa Technologies, which specializes in pest management, parlayed about $1.5 million in phase I, II, and IIB grants into a company named by Forbes "as one of the Top 25 Most Innovative Ag-Tech Startups in 2017." After Spensa was acquired by DTN in 2018, Park joined a foundation-funded nonprofit, Wabash Heartland Innovation Network, which applies the Internet of Things to farms across 10 Indiana counties.

RETURN OF EARMARKS - MAYBE NEXT YEAR: For the second year in a row, House Democrats have come close to bringing back congressionally directed spending "before ultimately deciding against it," CQ reports. The reason, an unnamed House aide tells the publication, is "a tight timeframe" facing appropriators. However, the aide says "there is near-unanimous support in the Democratic Caucus" for a revival of earmarks -- now called "community project funding" -- in the next Congress.  

AUTONOMOUS AND AUTO-PILOT SAFETY: Self-driving cars are still years away, but intermediate steps toward that goal have caused enough mishaps that more regulation may be needed. That's the topic of an upcoming hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

ONE-PARTY RULE: Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act in 2021 will likely depend on a single party controlling both houses of Congress and the White House, Lewis Burke Associates reports. As for passage this year, obstacles include  having two Democratic presidential candidates on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), "continued differences of opinion on the implementation and promulgation of Title IX regulations, and disagreements on spending levels, among other issues. A very likely scenario is that Senate negotiations will break down as the November presidential election approaches. In turn, Chairman [Lamar] Alexander (R-Tenn.) may introduce a legislative package that includes bills with bipartisan support, but will not be comprehensive in nature, which will not garner Democratic support. The end of the year could see further efforts at FAFSA simplification." Read L-B's Higher Education Policy Newsletter.


$64 MILLION FOR COAL RESEARCH: The Coal FIRST initiative was announced by Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette, who says it is “going to help us produce more coal-based power more efficiently and transform it into a near-zero emissions energy source." The Hill quotes him as saying: "The effort that we're undertaking is not to subsidize the industry and preserve their status ... as a larger electricity generator. It is simply to make the product cleaner and to look for alternative uses for this product." 

BASIC RESEARCH MAY SUFFER . . . in the fiscal 2021 Pentagon budget due to be released on Monday. Defense One reports that officials are expected to shift $5.7 billion to such priorities as nuclear modernization, space missile defense, hypersonic weapons, artificial intelligence, 5G communications tech, and readiness. Some $800 million could come from  Defense-wide research, development, test and evaluation. This category includes the Missile Defense Agency, R&D related to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, DARPA, Space Development Agency, Operational Test & Evaluation, the Defense Technical Information Center and the Test Resource Management Center. Lewis-Burke Associates' Defense Policy Newsletter notes that the two-year budget agreement reached last year offers little room for growth, and obligations to the Veterans Choice program are likely to claim $2 billion. Officials have stressed the need for “relentless and ruthless prioritization.” Find the newsletter here.

QUANTUM INFORMATION SCIENCE: The Air Force  Research Lab is accepting white papers on this topic and will then decide which ideas merit an invitation to submit a full proposal. L-B Associates reports that white papers should address at least one of these areas: Quantum Algorithm and Computation; Quantum Information Processing; Memory-Node-Based Quantum Networking; Superconducting Hybrid Quantum Platforms;  Quantum Information Sciences (Communication, Networking, Computing). Learn more here

BIOINDUSTRIAL MANUFACTURING: Look for the Pentagon to issue a solicitation around February 24 for a Bioindustrial Manufacturing Innovation Institute, L-B says. You can learn more about the vision for the center at a proposers' day in Arlington, Va. March 5. Learn more.

PURDUE ENGINEER TAPPED FOR PCAST: Theresa Mayer, successor to Suresh Garimella as Purdue's vice president for research and partnerships, is expected to be appointed as one of two new members of the President's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology. The other new member is Hussein Tawbi, deputy chairman of melanoma medical oncology at MD Anderson Cancer Center. Prior to joiniing Purdue, Meyer was vice president for research and innovation and a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Virginia Tech. Before that, she spent more than 20 years at Penn State, where she was a professor of electrical engineering and associate dean for research and innovation. Garimella, a member of the National Science Board, is now president of the University of Vermont.

STEM ED AND FUTURE INDUSTRIES: The first joint meeting between the National Science Board and the President's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology provided "critical insights on future ideas that may be key facets" of White House priorities, Lewis-Burke Associates reports. Discussions dealt with "policies and recommendations pertaining to industries of the future (IOTF), STEM education and workforce development, and federal laboratory engagement." See a summary.


Funding of Major Commerce-Justice-Science Agencies FY2010-FY2019

Source: Congressional Research Service, Overview of FY2020 Appropriations for Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies

Source: Natural Resources Defense Council prepared testimony February 5 before the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology 


ALL TOOLS, ALL SECTORS: Driving home once more the economic and national security threat posed by China, FBI Director Christopher Wray told a think-tank audience: "We’re . . . encouraging universities to take steps to protect their students from intimidation or control by foreign governments and to give them ways to report such incidents. We’re urging them to seek transparency and reciprocity in their agreements with foreign institutions. And to do their due diligence on the foreign nationals they allow to work and study on their campuses. Finally, we’re asking our private sector and academic partners to reach out to us if they see something that concerns them." Separately, it was disclosed that Li Xiao-Jiang, an Emory University researcher who was fired last May, was also charged last November with fraud. See more on the administratioin's China Initiative.

'A CORRUPTING LEVEL': “It was the amount of money involved that drew our attention,” Andrew Lelling, U.S. attorney for Massachusetts, says in explaining why his office pursued charges against Harvard chemist Charles Lieber. ScienceInsider's Jeff Mervis reports that Lelling was referring to "a 2012 contract included in court documents that indicates Lieber received $50,000 a month in salary and millions of dollars in research support."

CONCERN ABOUT AN EXPANDED TRAVEL BAN: The Council of Graduate Schools "is concerned about the consequences a policy of this nature creates" following the imposition of new restrictions on immigrants from Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria, Myanmar, Sudan, and Tanzania. CGS notes that "student visas and H-1B worker visas are not expected to be restricted." But President Suzanne T. Ortega says, “Talented individuals from across the globe are significant contributors to our country’s intellectual and economic success . . . . We should provide a stable and supportive environment, not one in which the goal posts may move in an untoward direction with little notice.”


'THE GUIDING FORCE': Vannevar Bush’s 1945 report  entitled Science – The Endless Frontier "helped form critical institutions and shaped much of our science policy" from post-World World II through the end of the Cold War in 1990, To mark 75 years since the report was delivered to President Harry Truman, The Kavli Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the National Academy of Sciences are holding a one day symposium in Washington, D.C. to "reflect on Bush’s legacy and explore new approaches for addressing the challenges and opportunities of the next 75 years.".See the agenda


'CHANGING CULTURES OF OPPRESSION': The #EngineersShowUp campaign seeks "to challenge the stereotype of the apathetic engineer" with a Week of Critical Action and Advocacy focused on resisting systemic injustice. "During the week of February 23-29, 2020, students, faculty, and staff will take concerted actions on campuses around the world, from tweeting support, to hosting reading groups or teach-ins, to pledging to decolonize the engineering curriculum or implement anti-racist, anti-sexist, culturally inclusive, and liberatory pedagogies." Learn more. See a Journal of Engineering Education guest editorial by Donna Riley, Ellen K. Foster, and Jennifer Karlin. 

WEBINAR: Demystifying Evaluation – Promising Practices to Maximize Your DEI Efforts: Evaluation is critical for diversity, equity, & inclusion (DEI) focused projects. On March 10 at 1 PM, ET, join us for a free webinar that will help develop the capacity of researchers to work with evaluators on their DEI projects. Led by Liz Litzler and Cara Margherio (University of Washington Center for Evaluation & Research for STEM Equity), this webinar will share promising practices for working with evaluators, developing program evaluation language using a logic model, & interpreting evaluation results. This webinar is free for ASEE members & non-members. Click here for full details.

FIRE UP THE FUTURE WITH eGFI: Filled with engaging features, gorgeous graphics, and useful information about engineering colleges and careers, the latest edition of ASEE's award-winning Engineering, Go For It is sure to get your students excited about learning - and doing - engineering!

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