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                                                               April 11, 2020  



The congressional near-unanimity shown two weeks ago with  passage of the $2.3 trillion CARES Act fell apart April 9, when Democrats blocked an additional $251 billion to support small business loans. Both parties agree the Small Business Administration needs more money to cover loans provided under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. However, Democrats want the new measure to contain support for hospitals, local governments, and food supplements, Lewis-Burke Associates reports. There's also a push for broader access to SBA loans, including by 501(c)6 and 501(c)7 organizations, and assurances that minority-owned firms get a fair shake. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has been in talks with Democratic leaders, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) says a deal could come early next week. 

IDEAS FOR FUTURE SPENDING: Not letting a crisis go to waste, Democratic staffers on the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee are looking for ways that Congress's new willingness to splurge might benefit research, development, and innovation. Specifically, they're asking for ideas on: opportunities for additional R&D and related activities specific to COVID-19 response and recovery; near-term response to COVID-19 impacts on the larger research enterprise; “shovel-ready” research infrastructure; and long-term economic stimulus and recovery. Click here for more detail on each of the four categories. Washington-based supporters of the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy's Office of Science have already circulated suggestions.   

BELT LOOSENING: With unemployment at its worst since the Great Depression, both sides of the aisle are talking about "cap adjustments," for the regular fiscal 2021 appropriations process, breaking free of restraints imposed by Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018. CQ quotes a spokesman for to House Appropriations Chair Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) as saying she "strongly supports budget cap exemptions to assist in the response to coronavirus and the ensuing economic collapse." Under the 2018 agreement, nondefense discretionary spending, which funds a number of research agencies, will barely rise above this year's level.

Click here to read the latest federal update from Lewis-Burke Associates.


STUDENT AID RELEASED TO COLLEGES: The $2.3 trillion CARES Act set aside $12.6 billion for higher education, with half going to help institutions with the cost of dealing with the pandemic. The other half must be used by institutions for emergency grants to students to help pay for costs like food, housing and transportation. On April 9, the Department of Education said it was distributing the money for student aid right away. "Institutions will receive allocations and guidance for the institutional share" in the coming weeks, ED said. In a letter to college and university presidents about the student aid, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos noted that the legislation gives institutions considerable discretion on how to distribute the grants, but urged them "to prioritize your students with the greatest need, but at the same time consider establishing a maximum funding threshold for each student to ensure that these funds are distributed as widely as possible.” See how much each institution will receive. Lewis-Burke reports that to get the money, institutions must download a certification document, review the document, have a campus leader sign, and submit through www.grants.gov. Funds will be available starting April 15. See coverage by Inside Higher Ed. Image: Howard University, Wikimedia

AFTER-ACTION REPORT: This semester's adventure in online learning presents a worthwhile future research opportunity, according to members of the National Science Foundation Engineering Advisory Committee. Access did not pose much of a problem even among low-income students, noted Gregory Washington, dean of engineering at the University of California-Irvine (and incoming president of George Mason University). But research could find ways around weak or erratic Internet service and develop interactive virtual design laboratories. Leah Jamieson, dean of engineering emerita at Purdue, found the speed with which universities switched to online learning "miraculous," but said it's "unwise to think we understand how people learn online." See slides from a presentation to the committee by Dawn Tilbury, NSF assistant director for engineering.

LEAP FORWARD: If you want a National Science Foundation grant related to the Covid-19 pandemic, you can apply through existing funding opportunities or use the Rapid Response Research (RAPID) funding mechanism, set up for " proposals having a severe urgency with regard to availability of or access to data, facilities or specialized equipment as well as quick-response research on natural or anthropogenic disasters and similar unanticipated events. Requests for RAPID proposals may be for up to $200K and up to one year in duration. Well-justified proposals that exceed these limits may be entertained. All questions should be directed either to a program officer managing an NSF program with which the research would be aligned or to rapid-covid19@nsf.gov." NSF notes its advanced computing systems: Frontera, Stampede2, Bridges, Comet, and JetStream. Learn more.

EAGER FOR CYBERSECURITY EDUCATION: NSF plans to award a small number of Early Concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER) to encourage advances in cybersecurity education. EAGER supports early-stage exploratory work "on untested but potentially transformative research ideas or approaches." NSF wants to use the mechanism "to encourage new collaborations between the Artificial Intelligence (AI), cybersecurity, and education research communities."  See the Dear Colleague letter.

ENERGY COLLABORATORS: Three Department of Energy officials--left to right, Valerie Reed, deputy director of the Bioenergy Technologies Office, Valri Lightner, deputy director of the Advanced Manufacturing Office, and Alison Hewett, a senior research analyst in the Water Power Technologies Office--will lead a webinar April 16 to discuss career paths and career decision-making processes; how the professional landscape has changed for women; individual DOE office priorities and successes in collaborating on joint initiatives, including the Plastics Innovation Challenge; and how their work is making a difference. Learn more and register.

AIR FORCE, NAVY GRANT EXTENSIONS: The Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) and the Office of Naval Research (ONR) have allowed for no-cost extensions for existing grants active as of March 31, 2020, Lewis-Burke Associates reports. Both research labs still recommend faculty contact their program officers regarding COVID-19 impacts to their research.

NAVY PUSH TO SUSTAIN R&D: James (Hondo) Geurts, assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development, and acquisition, urged Navy commands in a memo released March  24 "to leverage academia, small innovative research companies, large and small businesses, public-private venture companies, and startup companies engaged in research and development (R&D) and science and technology (S&T) to provide “immediate support” for COVID-19.," Lewis-Burke reports. The memo also includes additional actions for the Navy to consider, including: special opportunity funding for development of on Line K-12 STEM products aimed at small/medium and for/non-profit entities; an out-of-cycle solicitation for the SBIR/STTR programs for critical Navy needs; flexibilities for University Affiliated Research Centers (UARC) and Federally-Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDC); funding of Navy basic research grants in 12 month increments. 


NSF Award Amounts for Research Projects with Single PIs & Multiple PIs

Source: National Science Board, Merit Review Process: Fiscal Year 2018 Digest 


 Average Number of Months of Salary for Single-PI & Multi-PI Research Grants


Government Accountability Office, Science & Tech Spotlight: CRISPR Gene Editing



A PARALLEL SYSTEM: A new paper calls for the next federal stimulus to fund programs aimed at industry-valued skills, Inside Higher Ed reports. The idea would effectively create "a parallel higher education system with seamless credit transfer, the ability to pay for student learning outcomes and a competency-based system untethered from the credit hour." Authors Michael B. Horn and Richard Price of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation say third-party credentialing organizations would need to be able to offer standards that are specifiable, verifiable and predictable. See the report.



In an initiative to help fight Covid-19, the National Academy of Engineering is soliciting innovative engineering ideas "that could help ameliorate the virus itself and/or its collateral discontinuities, such as impacts on the supply chain and closure of schools." NAE is engaging the Grand Challenge Scholars Program and Frontiers of Engineering communities--and others--to join a brainstorming incumbator on a Slack® platform and develop entries along four themes: security, quality of life, health and medicine, and sustainability and recovery. A Technical Screening Committee composed of Frontiers alumni will review and triage proposals. Those with merit will be sent to an Expert Review Committee, composed of NAE members and others. The Review committee will help advance proposals with stakeholders, such as local governments and industries, that are in a position to take action. Finally, a "manufacturing team will create how-to-build guides for approved projects while suggesting ways to construct devices and urgently deliver them where needed." Learn more.



Training Tomorrow’s Engineers to Combat Climate Change

April 15 at 1 PM, ET: In support of Earth Day 2020, tune in for a new webinar and learn how two NSF-funded projects, RISE-UP and ReNUWIt, are training tomorrow’s engineers to build resilience and combat the effects of climate change through robust interdisciplinary initiatives. Register today: http://bit.ly/2Tlt4F9

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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