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                                   June 29, 2019

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The $750 billion 2020 National Defense Authorization Act allows for increases in a number of R&D programs important to universities. As described by Armed Services Chair James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the Senate bill addresses "strategic competition with China and Russia; continuing threats from rogue countries like Iran and North Korea, and terrorist organizations; new technology and new war-fighting domains in outer space and cyberspace." But it comes in at $17 billion more than the Democratic-led House wants to spend and skirts issues likely to create a partisan rift when the House takes up its version next month. These include transgender enlistment, nuclear weapons limits, climate change’s impact on national security, and money for President Donald Trump’s controversial southern border wall, the New York Times reports. For the White House, congressional authorization of the wall took on greater urgency Friday, when a federal judge  imposed a permanent injunction against use of Pentagon money to build new stretches of the barrier in California and New Mexico. While the Senate, in a separate vote, rejected a NDAA amendment to prevent Trump from launching a war against Iran on his own, the issue will likely come up in the House. The wide money gap will have to be thrashed out in a House-Senate conference.

SPENDING DEAL COMES FIRST: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell "indicated he plans to continue working toward a two-year spending caps deal that also includes an extension of the debt ceiling," CQ reports. Senate appropriators have been waiting for such an agreement before passing fiscal 2020 spending bills. The key players in a deal are House Democrats and President Trump, who are sharply at odds. The White House is threatening vetoes of House-passed spending bills.

HOUSE BOOSTS NSF, NASA: In a second "minibus" appropriations package, lawmakers approved fiscal 2020 increases of 6.9 percent for the National Science Foundation and 3.8 percent for NASA, according to a Polich Alert from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Also, climate and environmental research at the U.S. Geological Survey, Environmental Protection Agency, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration "would be shielded from the administration’s proposed cuts." Funding for Veterans Administration medical and prosthetic research would see a 7.8 percent boost, and the Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service would get a 3.4 percent increase, says AAAS. Spending bills passed by the House so far cover "nearly every federal research funder," according to the group. See a summary.

FISCAL PATH IS 'UNSUSTAINABLE': So warns the Government Accountability Office, which says "Congress and the administration face serious economic, security, and social challenges that require difficult policy choices in the near term"  while "the federal government is highly leveraged in debt by historical norms." 


A TEMPORARY REPRIEVE FOR DREAMERS: The Supreme Court will decide whether the Trump administration may halt the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which shields some 800,000 young, undocumented immigrants from deportation. A decision is expected in May or June of 2020. While President Trump tried to end DACA, federal courts have ordered that major parts of it be maintained while legal challenges proceed. A ruling in favor of Trump might compel lawmakers — particularly in the Senate — to take action, CQ says. The House recently voted 237-187 to consolidate protections for Dreamers and other groups of immigrants with temporary status, but the White House has threatened a veto and the Senate is unlikely to take it up. CQ reports that Senate Judiciary Committee members from both parties signaled this month that they are willing to work together on larger comprehensive immigration legislation, with Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) saying he's willing to work on DACA. See coverage by Bloomberg and NPR.

180 SUSPECTED CASES OF HIDDEN FOREIGN TIES: The National Institutes of Health has sent letters to more than 60 institutions about scientists the agency believes have withheld information about their foreign ties. Michael Lauer, head of NIH’s extramural research program, tells Science's Jeff Mervis that more firings have occurred than is publicly known, and “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in grants has been repaid to the agency. At least 18 cases have been referred for further investigation and certain scientists may be debarred. “We found one person with a $5 million startup package from a Chinese university that wasn’t disclosed to anybody." While most of the cases involve researchers who are ethnically Chinese, "some of our more serious cases are not ethnically Chinese.” NPR reports that "FBI officials have visited at least 10 members of the Association of American Universities" and advised them  "to monitor students and scholars" associated with certain Chinese institutions and companies.

Ethnic Chinese researchers feel they're subject to unfair scrutiny, says MIT's president. See below.

MORE THAN WEAPONS: A Defense Science Board task force has a summer assignment: "develop creative ways and means beyond traditional weapon systems to achieve National Defense Strategy objectives. The scope of the study should include novel employment and harmonization of existing whole-of¬government capabilities (and) pay particular attention to the intelligence collection and exploitation required to leverage U.S. capabilities. Finally, although the United States must never stray from our values, we must not hesitate to utilize the full and creative force of American ingenuity to secure U.S. interests. We must explore the full spectrum of national capabilities to manage escalation and deter adversary aggression."

$1.5 MILLION RECOUPED: The University of Wisconsin obtained a number of federal research grants, among them awards in science, health care, and engineering. According to the Energy Department inspector general, the school  "participated in a number of rebate and discount programs with supply and equipment vendors," and then "failed to apply the rebates and discounts from these purchases as a credit or reduction to the Federal awards." After an investigation, Wisconsin entered a $1.5 million settlement with the Justice Department. 

NOW THERE'S PROOF of the connection between sponsored research and innovation, say authors of a new study. They computed "links between government grants and tens of millions of U.S. patents and scientific papers from 1926 to 2017," and found "that almost a third of patents in the U.S. rely on federal research," and the number has risen steadily. "The research also establishes that corporations have steadily increased their reliance on federally supported research," says a press release by the National Science Foundation, which funded the study. The results are published in Science. 


Source: American Association for the Advancement of Science,, "Appropriations Update: House Wraps Up First Phase" By Matt Hourihan amd David Parkes

Source: Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NSF)


THE 'GIANT LEAP FOR MANKIND' SUPPORTING CAST: A decade of intense preparation and huge support on Earth made possible the first walk on the moon. "Join host Preston Dyches from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, for a discussion that will focus on understanding JPL's supporting role in one of humanity's greatest achievements. The panel of speakers will include JPL fellow and Emmy award-winning producer Blaine Baggett, Caltech Professor Emeritus of geology and planetary science Arden Albee and JPL veteran engineer of the Ranger and Surveyor era John Casani. Attend the lectures in person, or view Thursday's lecture via live webcast. Learn more here and here.

HOW CHINA TACKLES POLLUTION: ABET CEO Michael Milligan writes in Medium that since Shenzhen made its buses and taxis electric, "it has halved both its fuel bill and CO2 emissions" and reduced "nitrogen oxides, non-methane hydrocarbons and particulate matter. . . . China is proof that through awareness, innovation and determination, we can actively manage this problem [of pollution]. . . . We need to make our students aware that they have the opportunity to build a world that is a safer, healthier and more comfortable place for all to live."

'TOXIC' ATMOSPHERE FOR CHINESE RESEARCHERS: In a campus-wide email, MIT President Rafael Reif writes: "As head of an institute that includes MIT Lincoln Laboratory, I could not take national security more seriously. I am well aware of the risks of academic espionage, and MIT has established prudent policies to protect against such breaches," Reif wrote, as reported by Inside Higher Ed. "But in managing these risks, we must take great care not to create a toxic atmosphere of unfounded suspicion and fear. Looking at cases across the nation, small numbers of researchers of Chinese background may indeed have acted in bad faith, but they are the exception and very far from the rule. Yet faculty members, post-docs, research staff and students tell me that, in their dealings with government agencies, they now feel unfairly scrutinized, stigmatized and on edge -- because of their Chinese ethnicity alone."


WATCH THIS SPACE: The National Acadmies' latest two-year assessment of the Army Research Laboratory gives particular praise to ARL's aqueous battery research on Li-ion batteries, in which a small group has made "highly innovative discoveries." The report notes, "The unique strength of the group is its combination of physical intuition (which guides it in exploring innovative materials for lithium battery systems) and computational abilities."  

Learn what's in store at the September 25-27 U.S. Frontiers of Engineering Symposium in Charleston, S.C. 


LATE BUT LIVELY: It was among the last sessions at ASEE's Annual Conference, but the sparse audience seemed to find it riveting. Chun Kit Chui, of the University of Hong Kong, and Kseniya Zaitseva of Russia's Tomsk Polytechnic University, both pictured, joined Gary Bertoline, dean of the Purdue Polytechnic Institute; Genaro Zavala, professor and director of undergraduate studies of the School of Engineering and Sciences at Tecnologico de Monterrey; and Angeles Dominguez, a professor of mathematics and associate dean at Monterrey who is collaborating with the School of Engineering at the University Andres Bello in Chile, in a discussion entitled "Engineering Education Reform Towards Active Learning." Krishna Vedula, professor and engineering dean emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, was moderator.

'Discovering You: Engineering Your World,' by NBC News Learn, the educational arm of NBC News, includes short videos about unique professionals like Zaida Hernandez-Irisson, left, an electrical engineer at Fischer, USA in Racine, Wis.; Lane Daley, a chemical engineer designing processes at the Clif Bar Bakery in Twin Falls, Idaho, to efficiently produce the energy bar, and Sossena Wood, a bioengineer pursuing her Ph.D. at the University of Pittsburgh who researches ways to improve the detection of brain disease using MRI machines instead of surgery. The series was developed in partnership with ASEE, Chevron, and the National Science Foundation. See the videos here.

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