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August 26, 2017



Congress returns in early September without a clear path to preventing either an unprecedented U.S. default or a government shutdown in early October. While a default is considered highly unlikely, Quartz reports that "some traders have begun avoiding Treasury debt." According to Bloomberg, "the rate on Treasury bills maturing Oct. 12 jumped by as much as 5 basis points." President Trump faulted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) for failing to attach a debt-limit increase to a popular veterans' services bill. The debt measure can be used as leverage - for instance, by a conservative faction to enforce spending cuts. Both GOP leaders insist the debt limit will be raised but haven't specified how. Trump also said: “Believe me, if we have to close down our government, we’re building that wall.” The implication is that he would veto a spending bill that lacks payment for the border security wall. The House has approved $1.6 billion to start construction, but Senate Democrats are likely to balk. CQ reports that "Ryan is calling for a continuing resolution to provide lawmakers more time to reach a bipartisan deal to raise the spending caps for fiscal 2018 and to pass all 12 of the regular spending bills." Bloomberg reports that "a likely scenario" is to package the debt limit increase and shortterm spending measure together.

AMENDMENT 'DELUGE': While Congress will likely need a shortterm spending bill (continuing resolution) to keep the government open after Sept. 30, an eight-bill appropriations package to fund the government through fiscal 2018 awaits debate on the House floor. The other four 2018 spending bills have already passed the House, but not the Senate. According to CQ, "a deluge of last-minute amendments" for the pending eight-bill package have been filed containing "potential flashpoints." Brief summaries on the House Rules committee website include provisions that would, alternatively, strip funding from the National Climate Assessment or prohibit suppression of a report related to climate change; and either defund the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program or prohibit any funds from being used to deport those protected under DACA. One amendment would maintain FY17 funding for the National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE); another would increase the NSF budget by $3.5 million specifically for research on combatting algal blooms.


STATE DEPARTMENT SCIENCE ADVISER QUITS, SPELLING I-M-P-E-A-C-H: Daniel Kammen, an energy expert and nuclear engineering professor at the University of California-Berkeley, has stepped down in response to President Trump’s “attacks on the core values of the United States.” He cited the administration’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement and a failure to condemn white supremacists in the wake of the Charlottesville, Virginia, protests, ScienceInsider and Time report. Together, the first letters of each paragraph of his letter spell out the word “impeach.”

NO BAN ON USE OF 'CLIMATE CHANGE' - DOE: The Department of Energy denial followed a Facebook post by Jennifer Bowen, an associate professor at Northeastern University, ScienceInsider reports. The post contained a letter from a DOE official "asking her to remove the words 'global warming' and 'climate change' from her research proposal on nutrient loading in salt marsh carbon sequestration."

CAN'T KEEP UP: That's the conclusion of the President’s National Infrastructure Advisory Council, referring to the nation's defenses against "increasingly dangerous and targeted" cyber attacks. These could disrupt critical U.S. infrastructure that deliver vital services—particularly electricity and financial services. "As a nation-state cyber attack on U.S. infrastructure places private companies on the front line, this presents a national security challenge unlike any other. . . . Today, we’re falling short. Cyber capabilities and oversight are fragmented, and roles and responsibilities remain unclear. We’re simply not organized to keep up with the threat."

BUDGET PROTEST: A research community letter to Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price registers "strong opposition to the Administration’s proposal to cut $7.2 billion, or 21 percent, from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget in fiscal year (FY) 2018, including the proposal to drastically reduce NIH support for facilities and administrative (F&A) expenses (also referred to as “indirect costs”) for physical infrastructure and other essential research costs." 

UNDERRPRESENTED GROUPS - AN UPDATE: A report by the National Science Foundation's National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics says: "While women have reached parity with men among S&E degree recipients overall, they constitute disproportionally smaller percentages of employed scientists and engineers than they do of the U.S. population. Blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians or Alaska Natives have gradually increased their share of S&E degrees, but they remain underrepresented in educational attainment and the S&E workforce. By contrast, Asians are overrepresented among S&E degree recipients and employed scientists and engineers. Variations . . . are rooted in differences in precollege course taking, participation in S&E higher education, and overall educational attainment.See the report.



NASA OFFICIAL TO LEAD UNT SYSTEM: Lesa Roe, an electrical engineer who is currently NASA's acting deputy administrator, has been tapped as the next chancellor of the University of North Texas System. She was named sole finalist for the job and will be the first woman to lead the UNT system. Under state law, she must remain a finalist for three weeks before her appointment becomes official.

WARNING ON NUCLEAR EDUCATION: "If past is prologue, the recent spate of announcements of early closures of existing nuclear power plants, as well as the most recent announcement of cancellation of the two new builds at the Summer nuclear facility, could precipitate a new downturn in nuclear engineering education," says a report by the Energy Futures Initiative, a group launched by former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. "This could have serious implications for the ability to provide trained personnel to service both the domestic commercial nuclear power industry as well as support the Navy Nuclear Propulsion Program." (Thanks to ASME's Capitol Update.)

GERMANY TAKES ON ACADEMIC PUBLISHING: "Over the past 2 years, more than 150 German libraries, universities, and research institutes have formed a united front trying to force academic publishers into a new way of doing business," Science magazine reports. Instead of buying subscriptions to specific journals, consortium members want to pay publishers an annual lump sum that covers publication costs of all papers whose first authors are at German institutions. Those papers would be freely available around the world; meanwhile, German institutions would receive access to all the publishers' online content."

HIGHER COST, LOWER QUALITY: Those are the findings in a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report on public colleges and universities. As summarized by AAU's Weekly Wrapup, the report says "state spending for these institutions is nearly $9 billion below what it was when the Great Recession hit – even as public colleges and universities serve 800,000 more full-time students. Though many states have worked to restore cuts in recent years, the findings, adjusted for inflation, conclude that $1,448 less is being spent per student annually today than before the economic downturn."


BUGS YOU CAN'T SEE: Existing research "is starting to provide information that connects building characteristics with the composition and function of indoor microbial communities, while ongoing research is exploring associations with health and other outcomes," a National Academies report says. Still, to "move from research to application, it will be necessary to determine more fully the public health relevance of the relationships among built environments, indoor microbiomes, and humans, as well as how to demonstrate causal relationships in a clinically relevant framework." 


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.

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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