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December 16, 2016

Capitol Shorts will not be published next week. Happy Holidays from ASEE.



Donald Trump's son-in-law and close adviser, Jared Kushner, told New York business leaders that the president-elect's vision for a federal infrastructure program was “closer” to that of Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) than to that of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ken.), the New York Times reports. The Trump campaign floated a $1 trillion infrastructure plan that would depend on private investors raising money and building the projects with the aid of some form of tax credit. McConnell said this week: “We need to do this carefully and correctly, and the issue of how to pay for it needs to be dealt with responsibly.” 

FAKE NEWS: Legitimate outlets were reporting a week ago that Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) was Donald  Trump's pick to lead the Interior Department. They were wrong, and so was Capitol Shorts, which repeated the erroneous story. Trump in fact has chosen freshman Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) as Interior secretary. Zinke has what PBS says is "a mixed record of public comments on energy and climate change." A 23-year Navy SEAL, he established the Naval Special Warfare Advanced Training Command, a graduate school with over 250 educators, according to his bio.

FOGGY BOTTOM ENGINEER: Rex Tillerson, the just-retired ExxonMobil CEO tapped to be secretary of state, earned a B.Sc. in civil engineering at the University of Texas at Austin before joining Exxon. His ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin have drawn more attention than his environmental outlook. ExxonMobil backed the Paris Climate Agreement, calling it "an important step forward . . . in addressing the serious risks of climate change." But the firm is also being investigated by New York's attorney general, who is probing whether it suppressed information on its own research into climate change.

Speaking to the Council on Foreign Relations in 2012, Tillerson said consequences such as rising sea levels "are manageable. They do require us to begin to exert -- or spend more policy effort on adaptation. What do you want to do if we think the future has sea level rising four inches, six inches? Where are the impacted areas, and what do you want to do to adapt to that? . . . Changes to weather patterns that move crop production areas around -- we'll adapt to that. It's an engineering problem, and it has engineering solutions."

SOUTH CAROLINIAN FOR OMB? CQ, following an initial report by McCatchy, says Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), "a leading conservative, will be named on Monday to head up the Office of Management and Budget under President-elect Donald Trump, according to two sources familiar with the transition process." 


ENERGY GUIDES FOR MANUFACTURING: The Department of Energy is awarding nearly $35 million for 28 higher education institutions from 25 states across the country to set up and operate regional Industrial Assessment Centers (IACs), which "provide site-specific recommendations to small manufacturers with opportunities to improve productivity, secure information, reduce waste, and lower energy costs while providing training for undergraduate and graduate engineering students in manufacturing processes, energy assessment procedures, and energy management systems." See the list.

BROADENED PARTICIPATION: A new grant opportunity aims at extending IACs to underserved areas.

VEHICLE TECHNOLOGY R&D: The Energy Department intends to spend $19.7 million on "research and development of advanced vehicle technologies, including batteries, lightweight materials, and advanced combustion engines, as well as innovative technologies for energy efficient mobility." Find out more

REPEAT OFFENSES: Among academic improprieties cited by the National Science Foundation's Inspector General (IG) in its latest report to Congress, "an assistant professor submitted nine proposals to NSF with plagiarized text; six of the proposals also proposed to do work that had already been completed and published by other researchers." In the case of a graduate student "who submitted 11 NSF proposals in order to receive funding for work he had already completed and manipulated his published manuscripts to hide it, NSF proposed a three-year debarment."

ANTARCTIC ANTICS: The IG reports that NSF is taking action in response to misconduct at the U.S. Antarctic Program. A 2015 audit reported: "NSF officials acknowledged that alcohol consumption in the USAP can create unpredictable behavior that has led to fights, indecent exposure, and employees arriving to work under the influence." The latest report says, among other things, that "NSF will require annual reports of misconduct by NSF employees and contractors and will review those reports to determine whether a participant should be allowed to continue to participate in the USAP program. In its corrective action plan, NSF management stated that it will . . . host a law enforcement site visit to Antarctica . . . NSF agreed that policies on the use of expired medications, the types and tracking of medications stored for use in the event fire destroys the clinic, and access to the McMurdo pharmacy should be developed."

SBIR WOES: The IG reports that NSF had debarred "a small business and its CEO who were convicted on seven counts of wire fraud and two counts of false claims relating to SBIR awards, a PI and a small business who had been convicted and sentenced for false statements relating to SBIR awards, and a small business and its owner who had been convicted of wire fraud."

HOPEFUL EXERCISE: NSF Director France Córdova told the Engineering Directorate's Advisory Committee in October that the agency "plans to create a budget exercise in which the
NSF budget doubles," noting that "a budget increase would bolster the core programs and support powerful concepts including the Big Ideas," according to minutes of the meeting. However useful the exercise, a doubling is unlikely in the short term. The NSF reauthorization contained in the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (see below) caps NSF at $7.8 billion for FY 2018. Córdova's remark came after members of the committee, chaired by ASEE president Louis Martin-Vega, "commented that . . . given a flat budget, success may depend on collaboration outside of academia, with other agencies, and/or with other countries." Big Ideas relevant to engineering include Harnessing Data for 21st Century Science and Engineering; Shaping the New Human–Technology Frontier; Understanding the Rules of Life; The Quantum Leap; Navigating the New Arctic; Growing Convergent Research, and NSF INCLUDES.


CONGRESS CLEARS 'COMPETES': Considered all but dead just days ago, the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act - aka COMPETES - cleared Congress today, Dec. 16, and was headed to the president's desk. The final hurdle was the House. Although members had departed for the holidays and no actual vote was taken, "the bill was deemed passed by unanimous consent," reports Jeff Mervis in ScienceInsider. "Congress has passed the American Innovation & Competitiveness Act & has made science bipartisan again," tweeted Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), pictured at far right, who sponsored the measure along with Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), near right. The Senate had passed the measure in the pre-dawn hours December 10 after approving a stopgap spending bill that averted a government shutdown. The 11th-hour House action was reminiscent of the last reauthorization of COMPETES during a lame-duck session in 2010.


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


U.S. LAGS IN CLEAN ENERGY: So reports the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), which says "China and other Asian nations have vaulted past the United States to the forefront of the global clean-energy technology market." It goes on: "But if the Trump administration and new Congress prioritize energy innovation, America can wrest back its market leadership and in doing so, create thousands of jobs in advanced manufacturing while improving its trade balance." See ITIF's report, Energy Innovation Policy: Priorities for the Trump Administration and Congress.

TENNESSEE FAULTS: Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) who secured Senate passage of the 21st Century Cures Act, now wants to "begin immediately in January to repeal Obamacare, and then to make an orderly transition," he tells the Nashville Tennessean, which reports: "Alexander also wants to address higher education issues, such as, simplifying both the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the student loan repayment system." Meanwhile, a report on higher education​ in the senator's home state says "Tennessee community colleges and universities are not graduating students at high enough rates—and some schools have graduation rates that are woefully unacceptable. In fact, the average graduation rate at Tennessee two- and four-year public postsecondary institutions is below 45 percent, with some institutions hovering near single-digit graduation rates."  

'A SINGLE VOICE': That's what eight grant-making foundations hope to achieve with the formation of the Open Research Funders Group, "an effort to promote sharing of articles and data between researchers and organizations," according to Inside Higher Ed. The founding members, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the American Heart Association, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the John Templeton Foundation, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, Open Society Foundations, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, confer nearly $5 billion in annual grants between them.", and said in a press release that they intend to "speak with a single voice regarding open access, open data and open science."



INTRODUCING PRISM PODCASTS: This new feature, produced by Nathan Kahl, debuted with a report on the Mobile Virtual Player, developed by students at Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering. Listen to this and subsequent podcasts here.

ASEE Mid-Atlantic Spring Conference: Members are invited to submit papers and attend the event April 8-9, 2017, at Morgan State University in Baltimore. Full paper submission deadline is February 10, 2017.

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.