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August 28, 2015


SPECIAL AUTHORITY SOUGHT FOR DHS R&D: The White House is asking congressional appropriators to give the Homeland Security Department "special acquisition authority for research and development projects," CQ reports. This would let DHS work with "non-traditional government contractors." CQ doesn't elaborate on what specific R&D needs this authority or what it means by non-traditional. The document it cites hasn't been made public, but it's a list of items the administration wants in an upcoming stopgap funding bill. With the appropriations process stalled, Congress is expected to need a stopgap continuing resolution (CR) to keep funding the federal government into the 2016 fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1. These special funding requests are called "anomalies." Lawmakers ask for them as well. The big question about the CR is how long it will last.

INCREDIBLE SHRINKING DEFICIT: At $426 billion, the federal deficit is the lowest it's been since 2007, according to the latest Congressional Budget Office estimate. It's also lower than the average deficit over the past 50 years relative to the size of the economy. But Senate Budget Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) is warning colleagues against a splurge, CQ reports, saying that over the long term the deficit and national debt are rising. Meanwhile, the budget office says the debt limit will have to be raised by mid-November or early December to avoid default, according to CQ. This may occasion another fiscal fight, even if a shutdown is avoided in October.



Graphic by Jennifer Pocock; Source: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Main Science and Technology Indicators, Volume 2015, Issue 1


WANT TO START AN ERC? The National Science Foundation has three questions for institutions seeking to create an Engineering Research Center: What is the compelling new idea and how does it relate to national needs? Why is a center necessary to tackle the idea? How will the ERC's infrastructure integrate and implement research, workforce development and innovation ecosystem development efforts to achieve its vision? Centers formed under this long-running program, NSF says, "create an innovative, inclusive culture in engineering to cultivate new ideas and pursue engineering discovery that achieves a significant science, technology, and societal outcome within the 10-year timeframe of NSF support." Letters of intent are due Sept. 25. (If you want to read more about ERCs, check out Organized Innovation: A Blueprint for Renewing America’s Prosperity.)

DEANS AND CHAIRS TAKE NOTE: NSF's Division of Electrical, Communications and Cyber Systems needs a director. It's a rotator position within the Engineering Directorate. "ECCS addresses fundamental research issues underlying device and component technologies, power, controls, computation, networking, communications and cyber technologies. ECCS supports the integration and networking of intelligent systems principles at the nano, micro and macro scales for a variety of application domains." Find out more.

STUDENTS DESIGN SPACEWALK TOOLS: Undergrads will design and build prototypes of spacewalking tools to be used by NASA astronauts for spacewalk training in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. The deadline for proposal submission is Oct. 26. Learn more about NASA's Micro-g NExT.

SINO-U.S. ENERGY-WATER NEXUS: UC Berkeley will lead a $50 million "consortium of university, nonprofit, utility, and national laboratory partners in a new technical track under the U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center (CERC) that addresses water-related aspects of energy production and use." The Department of Energy will kick in $12.5 million to be matched or exceeded by the consortium. "The Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology, with its consortium partners, has pledged an equivalent amount of resources" over five years. The effort "seeks to transform how water is used in energy production and electricity generation, while improving water quality and availability for a diverse range of human applications."

ENERGY MOSAIC: Eleven teams will work on creating "highly efficient photovoltaic (PV) panels that capture more sunlight using less area" under the Advanced Research Project Agency-Energy's Micro-scale Optimized Solar-cell Arrays with Integrated Concentration (MOSAIC) program. See the teams and what they're up to. The ARPA-E project is part of a $1 billion package of energy initiatives "to drive innovation and accelerate the clean energy economy."

MONEY PRIZES FOR SOLAR DECATHLON: The Energy Department will award up to $2 million in prize money will be awarded to college teams tapped for the 2017 Solar Decathlon. The students "will have two years to effectively demonstrate before the American public the affordability and comfort of a sustainable lifestyle. Also, DOE needs an organization to run the 2017 and 2019 competitions, and will pay up to $4 million.

THE WHITE HOUSE SEEKS IDEAS: As part of the president's Precision Medicine initiative, the administration wants to "learn about new or expanded initiatives and programs aimed at enabling new ways to improve health and treat disease – and ways to use this information to inform our precision medicine efforts." Topics could include "exciting new ways to engage patients, participants, and partners in research . . . including through the use of novel technologies" innovative ways of including historically excluded and underserved populations in research; and grand challenges. A website is ready to accept ideas.


DO U.S. MANUFACTURERS NEED HELP? Maybe not, suggests a  Congressional Research Service report, noting that "[m]anufacturing output has grown more rapidly in the United States over the past decade than in most European countries and Japan, although it has lagged China, Korea, and other countries in Asia," and that "U.S. manufacturers spend far more on research and development (R&D) than those in any other country . . . " The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation begs to differ. See ITIF's rebuttal.


TOO MUCH CASH: Others might not think this is much of a worry, but "the huge backlog of cash-on-hand" is one of the problems the Air Force Office of Scientific Research found in looking at how universities spend grants. Universities have to spend down one fiscal year's funding before spending the next year's, with the result that "latter year funding will sit unexpended for months or years." AFOSR finance chief Rickey Lawrence told a National Academies workshop that "[w]hile we have been communicating to the grantees the importance of quickly expending funds, that message does not seem to be getting to the business offices." The workshop also heard former AFOSR Director Joseph Janni criticize certain offices at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, home of the Air Force Research Laboratory, as "uncooperative, intransigent, and relentless in their efforts to diminish and degrade AFOSR." Read the workshop report.



A symposium entitled 21st Century Mindsets & Strategies for Career Advancement will be held Sept. 23-26, 2015 in Arlington, Va. It’s part of the National Science Foundation’s Minority Faculty Development Workshop series, which aims to enhance the presence, socialization, retention and advancement of junior and mid-career faculty from underrepresented (African American, Native American and Hispanics) populations in engineering. Learn more.

NOW AVAILABLE:  An all-new 6th edition of eGFI (Engineering, Go For It), ASEE's award-winning magazine for middle and high school students. To purchase copies, go to https://store.asee.org/products/egfi-magazine. For bulk purchases or other inquiries, contact eGFI@asee.org or call 202-331-3500.