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May 28, 2016



That was CQ's assessment just before Congress left town for Memorial Day. Just days after lawmakers celebrated early progress in appropriations, the House defeated the Energy-Water spending bill - which funds billions in research at the Department of Energy - over policy riders that made it unpalatable to both sides. However, spending bills have a way of making it through in "omnibus" or "minibus" form, so it's worth examining appropriators' intentions.

SENATORS DEMAND MORE DoD BASIC RESEARCH: Defense appropriators call for $2.26 billion for basic research, $163 million more than the Pentagon had sought. Overall, they would provide $70.8 billion for research, development, test, and evaluation. "Basic research is the foundation of innovative breakthroughs that are critical to maintaining the Nation’s future technological edge. Investments in basic research not only provide advances in technology for our military men and women but also provide an important incubator for national labs and academic research institutions," the senators said in their report. Within the increase is more money than requested for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and $10 million for an unspecified "manufacturing initiative" in the National Defense Education Program.

SENATE R&D PRIORITIES: Appropriators would like the Army to expand its Open Campus approach to include the Materials and Manufacturing Science laboratories. They encourage "advances in manufacturing using nanoscale and microscale technologies [that] have the potential to increase the performance of essential . . . armament and munitions applications."  They urge the Navy to address "materials homogeneity and integration related to electronic and photonic technologies"; expand ocean renewable energy testing, look at energy costs and security at coastal facilities, and "invest in renewable energy demonstration activities." The Air Force, as well, should "continue critical research in this field, including investments in adaptive engine technologies, biogasification and waste-to-energy, and other promising initiatives."  

CYBER AND UAV WEAPONS: The Senate appropriations panel backs "multidisciplinary research in the areas of dynamic cyber defense, tactical cyberspace operations, signals intelligence, and user-in-the-loop testing and evaluation." DARPA, the panel says, should "work with the research labs to implement a university-based cybersecurity laboratory and photonics foundry with close involvement with industry partners, State government and the Federal Government to continue development of quantum computing capability." To counter rogue drones, the committee urges the Air Force Research Laboratory to continue research and development of tactics using radar systems, advanced communications, and cyber security technologies."  

NEW MANAGEMENT FOR NASA RESEARCH? House appropriators are instructing the space agency to "contract for an independent examination of the benefits and constraints of increasing NASA Centers’ collaboration with academia and the private sector" using Federally Funded Research and Development Centers as a model. In their report, the Commerce, Justice, Science panel members also:

  • Encourage NASA "to partner with academic institutions that have strong capabilities in aviation and aerospace structures; materials testing and evaluation; and with a demonstrated and recognized record for integration of these materials into manufacturing and production";
  • Ask how NASA plans to use $35 million for nuclear propulsion technologies in space transportation and exploration.
  • Provide $45 million for "sub-orbital and orbital technology demonstration of small launch technology platforms able to carry a 200–300 kilogram small satellite into low Earth orbit," and $25 million "for additive manufacturing technology research for use in rocket engines and structures."

LAWMAKERS SLASH NIST & NSF's CONSTRUCTION TAB:  House appropriators plan to cut $99 million from what the National Institute of Standards and Technology got this year, coming $150 million below what the agency requested. No money is provided for Lab-to-market or the Urban Dome program, which conducts environmental monitoring. The panel is also "concerned about security-related issues at NIST, in particular potential inappropriate access of foreign nationals to NIST facilities and information systems." Appropriators cut the National Science Foundation's  Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction budget by more than half, providing $113 million less than this year. Appropriators are more enthusastic about Innovation Corps (I-Corps), providing $5 million more than requested so as to fund "new and existing I-Corps Teams, Sites, and Nodes to enable greater participation nationally.”

'NATIONAL INTEREST' ABSTRACTS: House appropriators are pleased that NSF is trying to write abstracts in plain English, but they want more. In language close to that drafted by Science Committee Republicans, appropriators say abstracts should explain "how a project increases economic competitiveness in the United States; advances the health and welfare of the American public; develops an American STEM workforce, including computer science and information technology sectors, that are globally competitive; increases public scientific literacy and public engagement with science and technology in the United States; increases partnerships between academia and industry in the United States; supports the national defense of the United States; or promotes the progress of science for the United States." 

SUPPORT FOR HISPANIC-SERVING INSTITUTIONS: Evidently impatient with NSF, the spending panel "directs NSF to establish an HSI-specific program no later than 120 days after enactment of this Act and demonstrate a $30,000,000 investment no later than September 30, 2017." 

WORRY OVER HOUSE ENERGY BILL: In its Weekly Wrapup, the Association of American Universities reports that the House-passed version of the energy authorization bill recently passed by the Senate is a cause of "significant concerns." Authorized funding levels "are significantly below current FY16 appropriated levels for ARPA-E, the Office of Science's Biological and Environmental Research (BER) program, and R&D programs in Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Nuclear Energy, Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, and Fossil Energy." The bill also has troublesome policy provisions, AAU says.


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


GROWTH ENGINE: The Obama Administration's Big Data Research and Development Strategic Plan, envisions an "innovation ecosystem" that "leads to new fields of research and new areas of inquiry that would otherwise be impossible; educates the next generation of 21st century scientists and engineers; and promotes new economic growth." Its education provisions call for "both deep analytical talent and analytical capacity for the broader workforce. . .  Efforts are needed to determine the core educational requirements of data scientists, and investments are needed to support the next generation of data scientists and increase the number of data-science faculty and researchers."

WOMEN AND MINORITIES are woefully underrepresented in NASA's Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) programs, according to stats compiled by a National Academies panel. Approximately 8 percent of Phase I awards in FY2014 went to women-owned small businesses (WOSBs) and a roughly equal share to minority-owned firms. The success rate for minority firms in 2014 was 20 percentage points lower than for non-minority firms. Minority firms received 19 Phase II awards in FY2009 and 5 in FY2014. Phase II success rates for women-owned firms were lower than those for nonWOSBs in every year of the study period (FY2005-2012) except for FY2005. "NASA has not made sustained efforts to 'foster and encourage' the participation" of either women- or minority-owned small businesses.

INSTITUTIONAL TIES: A partner program to SBIRs, the Small Business Technology Transfer program, shows low participation of women and "extremely low" participation of blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans, according to a second Academies study. But there's one distinction: a "deeper and richer" connection with universities. "STTR addresses its congressional mandate to stimulate partnerships between small business concerns and research institutions to an extent that SBIR does not."

BAD APPLES: NASA's SBIR program has kept the agency's inspector general busy, according to the latest OIG report to Congress. A couple of examples: "A Houston research firm and two former University of Houston professors were sentenced for fraudulent activity related to more than $7 million in SBIR contracts with NASA and other Federal agencies. The firm was ordered to pay a fine of $15,000, while the two professors were sentenced to prison for terms of 3 to 5 months and ordered to pay $235,000 in restitution." Also, a Lehigh University professor and his wife were convicted of wire fraud in connection with a $600,000 NASA SBIR contract. "The investigation disclosed that the couple used their company as a front to funnel Federal grant money to themselves while the research was actually performed by students and others working in the university lab."


CRACKS IN THE GLASS CEILING: For the first time, women now hold top positions at the National Science Foundation (Director France A. Córdova) and its governing body, the National Science Board. As chair, the board elected geophysicist Maria Zuber, left photo. She's vice president for research at MIT. Computer scientist Diane Souvaine, vice provost for research at Tufts University, is the new vice chair. 

CARE TO COMMENT? NSF wants to know about researchers' interactions with the Advanced Cyberinfrastructure (ACI) Division and whether its current role "supports and anticipates the cyberinfrastructure needed by science and engineering research communities. Read the Dear Colleague letter.

cc: COLLEGES & UNIVERSITIES -  NSF's Campus Cyberinfrastructure (CC*) program anticipates spending "approximately $16 million-$18 million . . . to support 21-33 awards" in FY 2017 -- "subject to the availability of funds." CC "invests in coordinated campus-level cyberinfrastructure (CI) components of data, networking, and computing infrastructure, capabilities, and integrated services leading to higher levels of performance, reliability and predictability for science applications and distributed research projects." Read the solicitation.  

AN ENGINEERING APPROACH TO FOREIGN AID: Western aid efforts have what can politely be described as a mixed record in the developing world. Does USAID's Science, Technology, Innovation and Partnership program hold more promise? A National Academies panel aims to find out, and also recommend ways to build stronger partnerships "for the mobilization of science and technology for innovation." The panel includes Rice University's Rebecca Richards-Kortum, a professor of bioengineering and electrical and computer engineering who directs the Rice 360°: Institute for Global Health; and MIT mechanical engineer Amos Winter, who leads the Global Engineering and Research (GEAR) Lab.  


STAMP OF DISAPPROVAL: A proposed State Department rule "threatens to shrink the pool of research opportunities available for U.S. colleges, which have grown strongly in popularity among high-paying foreign students in recent years," Reuters reports. The rule "would bar foreign students from more research projects and classes involving information seen as vital to national security. . . . Research related to defense technology such as munitions, nuclear engineering and satellite technology would be particularly affected." The Association of American Universities, Stanford, MIT, and the University of Pennsylvania are critics of the proposal.  

CERTIFIED ENTREPRENEURS: The University of Illinois College of Engineering "plans to launch a new degree program that will let students pursue ideas that could develop into companies," the Chicago Tribune reports. "The Innovation, Leadership and Engineering Entrepreneurship program will be project-based and build on classes and programming already offered through the university’s Technology Entrepreneur Center." 


SMALL PACKAGES, BIG SCIENCE: CubeSats could enable numerous "high priority science goals," a National Academies panel says, including: solar and space physics; earth science; planetary science; astronomy and astrophysics; and Biological and physical sciences in space.  


STAYING POWER: ASEE has done extensive work on retention and time-to-graduation rates over the previous several years. A good distillation was recently done by consultant Cindy Veenstra, left. "The study of graduation rates is multivariate and complex; the colleges’ cultures, admission policies and student support/engagement activities all contribute to the variation. An engineering college with a 90% first year retention of its freshmen can expect a 5-year graduation rate of 72% while an engineering college with a 75% first year retention can expect a 47% graduation rate." See the full content.  

ROCK-A MY SEOUL: The World Engineering Education Forum & The Global Engineering Deans Council will convene in Seoul, South Korea, November 6-10, 2016. Organized by the Korea Society for Engineering Education and the Korea Engineering Deans Council, the gathering will focus on the theme, Engineering Education for Smart Society. Specific topics include Industry 4.0, the Industrial Internet, and Cybersecurity. Learn more

CHANGING ROLE OF THE ENGINEERING EDUCATOR: That's the theme of the 27th Australasian Association for Engineering Education Conference, which will be held in Coffs Harbour, December 4-7, 2016, hosted by Southern Cross University. The deadline for Structured Abstracts and Workshop Proposals has been extended to June 1. Learn more. Inquiries can be directed to aaee2016@scu.edu.au.  

'ENGINEERING-ENHANCED' LIBERAL EDUCATION: ASEE, with financial support from the Teagle Foundation and expert guidance by leading education consultant Sheila Tobias, has launched a website highlighting case studies that examine the benefits of greater integration between the liberal arts and engineering. Find out more.


Engineering & Engineering Technology Chairs Conclave

Join us at the ASEE Annual Conference in New Orleans, LA on June 26, 2016 for the inaugural Chairs Conclave, an exclusive forum for Engineering and Engineering Technology Chairs to exchange ideas, share experiences, talk through challenges, and build working relationships. This full day event, designed by Chairs, for Chairs, includes presentations on relevant topics including financial development and managing external connections, and facilitated opportunities for group discussion and brainstorming.  Register today – space is limited! Learn more and view the full agenda.

eGFI Summer Reading: Is your school hosting an engineering camp, bridge program, or professional development session for K-12 teachers this summer? Jump-start the learning with eGFI (Engineering, Go For It), ASEE's award-winning magazine for middle and high school students. Filled with engaging features, gorgeous graphics, and useful information about engineering colleges and careers, eGFI aims to get teens fired up about engineering. To purchase copies, go to http://store.asee.org/  For bulk purchases or other inquiries, contact eGFI@asee.org or call 202-331-3500.