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September 1, 2017


HARVEY RECOVERY COULD COST $150 BILLION: The Trump administration's expected request for $6 billion in emergency aid amounts to a small downpayment. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.), whose district includes Houston's inner city, tells CNN the total federal bill could reach $150 billion, a figure the White House doesn't reject, CQ reports. That expense raises the stakes for a series of choices Congress needs to make in coming weeks. These include:

  • raise the debt ceiling or face a U.S. default;
  • pass a stopgap spending measure or shut down the government;
  • lift Budget Control Act spending caps or trigger sequestration.
  • defy the White House or fund the border wall.  
  • complete FY 2018 appropriations or succumb to White House demands for deep cuts.  

The Treasury says the nation may hit the debt ceiling a couple  of days before Sept. 29, the date it previously gave. House GOP  leaders plan separate votes on raising the ceiling and providing initial flood relief, according to CQ. The stopgap measure - called a continuing resolution, or CR - could last several months, according to CNBC, citing analysts, while Congress sorts out budget limits and appropriations. The White House made the CR easier to pass by signalling that failure to fund a border wall won't shut down the government. As for Trump's promised tax cuts, the Harvey aid package "will stiffen resistance among lawmakers to any tax changes that aren’t offset with new revenue," Bloomberg reports.   

SENATE VOTE NEARS ON DEFENSE BILL: The Senate version of the FY 2018 National Defense Authorization Act could come to the floor next week, and with it a blizzard of proposed amendments. See a committee summary. The House passed its version before the August recess. Advocates for university-based research applaud a number of provisions in the Senate bill, including its rejection of most of the White House's basic research cuts. The bill supports Army Defense Research Sciences, Army University and Industry Research Centers, Army basic research support for the Third Offset strategy, and Navy University Research Initiatives. It authorizes additional money for the Manufacturing Engineering Education Program, enhances the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership, and sustains the Manufacturing USA institutes related to defense. Particularly welcome is Section 211, giving the Pentagon flexibility to gain access to access to university technical expertise, including faculty, staff, and students, in 22 subject areas, ranging from cybersecurity to lasers, artificial intelligence, and shipbuilding.

OVER THE MOON: George Sowers, mechanical engineering professor of practice at the Colorado School of Mines, will be one of several witnesses at a House Science subcommittee hearing Sept. 7 on private sector exploration of the moon. He's a former vice president and chief scientist of the United Launch Alliance. The panel says ULA has indicated plans to operate in cislunar space in the near future. Learn more about the hearing.

PANEL WEIGHS NIH FUNDING: FY 2018 appropriations bill that includes the National Institutes of Health is due for a markup by a Senate subcommittee on Sept. 6 and goes before the full Appropriations Committee the next day. You can listen to the meetings but not watch.  


STILL NO FINAL WORD ON DREAMERS: The White House now says President Trump will announce the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program on Tuesday. Although CBS reported today that Trump "has decided to end" the 2012 program, efforts to influence him are likely to continue through the weekend. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said "I actually don't think he should do that," referring to rescinding DACA. He said there should be a legislative fix, as did Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who also urged the president not to cancel the program. Sen Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) tweeted: "Congress needs to take immediate action to protect #DACA kids."

SOWING THE WIND: Utility-scale wind installations in 40 states and Puerto Rico are now sufficient to supply 6.2 percent of U.S. electricity demand, the Department of Energy reports. While Texas led the nation in capacity last year, Iowa and South Dakota produced more than 30 percent of their electricity from wind, and 12 other states exceeded 10 percent. Industry project development currently supports more than 100,000 jobs. However, future growth prospects are uncertain, "given declining federal tax support, expectations for low natural gas prices, and modest electricity demand growth," DOE says. 

DOE SCIENCE RETROSPECTIVE: The 1985 discovery of buckyballs is among the 40 breakthroughs highlighted by the Energy Department's Office of Science as it celebrates its first 40 years. Leading up to October 1, the office will post one of its most celebrated papers each day.

'MICK THE KNIFE': If Congress hasn't taken kindly to many of the federal budget cuts Mick Mulvaney wants to make as director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, a new profile by Politico reminds us that he's just getting started in his push "to roll back funding for foreign aid, research, health care, transportation and almost everything else that doesn’t involve Trump’s priorities of defense and the border."


Graphic by Jennifer Pocock based on data from NSF's National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. To see a larger, interactive version, click here. To view last week's Top 10 chart in the same format, click here.  


SEARCH AND RESCUE: Dangling from helicopters to save stranded flood victims was this week's mission for members of the Texas Task Force 1 Urban Search & Rescue Team, including the man at left. TX-TF 1, sponsored by the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service, has deployed over 100 times since 1997. See their videos.

DOUBLE-EDGED CUBA POLICY: University of Miami President Julio Frenk says "I would never stop a faculty member . . . from collaborating with any colleague anywhere in the world." But the school won't enter into institutional agreements with the Cuban government or its universities, Inside Higher Ed reports. Frenk says "Unfortunately today, because of the lack of autonomy, Cuban universities do not enjoy academic freedom.” Six faculty members who met with him issued a statement saying they "expressed multiple concerns about the recent Cuba policy statement, its perceived political motivations and its potential to impact adversely the ability of faculty to pursue their research freely." 

WORK AND LEARN: That's the aim of the Aligning Technology and Talent Development initiative, an effort led by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences in partnership with the Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow (LIFT) manufacturing institute. It seeks "to encourage more industry-driven, technology-aligned work-and-learn curricula in university and community college programs to produce graduates more capable and confident in using new manufacturing technologies and processes." See the recommendations.


BIG SCIENCE, BIG BUCKS: "NASA’s large strategic missions like the Hubble Space Telescope, the Curiosity rover on Mars, and the Terra Earth observation satellite are essential to maintaining the United States’ global leadership in space exploration and should continue to be a primary component of a balanced space science program that includes large, medium, and smaller missions," says a National Academies press release introducing a new report. "However, controlling the costs of these large missions remains vital in order to preserve the overall stability of the program." 


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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