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                                     April 22, 2018



The recently installed Senate Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), right, may hope otherwise, but he's unlikely to make a quick impact. "Election years tend to chill swift movement on appropriations bills," CQ reports — both because of lawmakers' need to campaign and because the party out of power thinks it might gain control of the chamber and thus get more of what it wants post-election. This makes it very likely that the 2019 fiscal year will start with a continuing resolution that basically maintains current funding levels. Congress might have to forgo dividing $36 billion in new discretionary money provided by the two-year budget agreement. But research agencies, which did surprisingly well in the FY 2018 omnibus spending bill, could find themselves better off if Congress kicks the can down the road.

GOP SPLIT ON RESCISSIONS: Going against House deficit hawks, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is rebuffing calls to cut items in the recently passed omnibus--a so-called rescission. “You can’t make an agreement one month and say, 'OK, we really didn’t mean it,' " he told Fox News. The Hill reports that McConnell "pointed out that Trump helped negotiate the $1.3 trillion spending deal and signed it into law." His may not be the last word, however. According to CQ, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney suggested this week that the White House will put forward multiple rescission requests.

HOUSE PANEL BOOSTS TECHNICAL SKILLS TRAINING: A bipartisan measure directing the National Science Foundation to fund research, new courses, and academic-business partnerships that improve students' technical skills has won approval from the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. Whether the bill moves any further is unclear, despite the sponsorship of Majority Leader (and candidate for speaker) Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). Lewis-Burke Associates says few legislative initiatives are likely to be taken up over the next few months. The bill, the firm reports, directs NSF "to award grants to community colleges to develop new STEM courses and degrees; to create research grants to measure the impact of computer-based and online courses for technical skills training"; and offer grants to institutions of higher education to partner with employers in offering work-based learning experiences, like apprenticeships, to STEM students. 

NDAA MARKUP MARATHON: The House Armed Services Committee has scheduled six subcommittee hearings on Thursday as it works to complete the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act. Separately, the House Defense Appropriations subcommittee will meet behind closed doors Wednesday on the Pentagon's Defense Posture and Budget. Defense Secretary James Mattis will testify, along with Gen. Joseph Dunford, Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Comptroller David Norquist. 

UNIVERSITIES' R&D PRIORITIES: The Coalition for National Security Research is preparing to seek an increase for the armed services' University Research Initiatives, with the added sums going to the Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) program. Other funding priorities include the Defense University Research Instrumentation Program (DURIP), each Service’s Young Investigator Programs (YIP), Vannevar Bush Faculty (VBF) Fellowships, Minerva Research Initiative, and National Defense Science & Engineering Graduate (NDSEG) Fellowships. The coalition is also flagging a number of programs within Basic Research Initiatives and the National Defense Education Program, including the Manufacturing Engineering Education Program. 

INNOVATION SHAKEUP: America can enjoy technological preeminence, but not with its current processes, says Michael D. Griffin, far right photo, undersecretary of defense for research and engineering. He told a House Armed Services hearing he's striving for "an appropriate balance between funding innovative, disruptive basic research likely to see long-term returns on investment and addressing near-term operational needs and military requirements." Technology-focused modernization efforts are Hypersonics (both Offense and Defense), Directed Energy, Machine Learning (Artificial Intelligence), Quantum Science (including Encryption and Computing), and Microelectronics. Also testifying was former Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, now a technical advisor to the Alphabet holding company, who chairs the Defense Innovation Board. He reiterated his call for an AI Center. "In the long run, AI will profoundly affect military strategy in the 21st century." Yet, "DoD has yet to embrace the transformational capabilities of AI," and is "neither keeping pace with private industry or academia, nor effectively incorporating or guiding breakthroughs for defense."

During Q&A, Schmidt stressed: "The relationship between the tech industry and research funding that's come over history from the government has been profound. . . The more basic research that you all in aggregate can fund across the sciences and so forth - it really does benefit the military mission (and) the defense of our nation."

ADDED SUPPORT FOR ENERGY R&D: Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) is one of the lead sponsors of bipartisan legislation in both chambers that would establish a non-profit foundation for the Department of Energy, similar to an existing foundation for the National Institutes of Health. The new foundation would "channel private-sector investments that support the creation, development, and commercialization of innovative technologies that address tomorrow’s energy challenges." ASEE is among the organizations supporting the legislation.  


BIG IDEAS – WHERE ENGINEERING FITS: All 10 of the National Science Foundation’s Big Ideas depend at least in part on engineering if they're to be realized. The Engineering Directorate is carving out a niche in a number of them, according to reports and discussion at this week’s meeting of its Advisory Committee. Lewis-Burke Associates, who attended, cited The Future of Work at the Human-Technology Frontier, where ENG is pressing ahead with “intelligent cognitive assistants”; Quantum Leap; Mid-scale Research Infrastructure; Navigating the New Arctic (subject of an extended discussion); and Harnessing Data for 21st Century Science and Engineering. Engineers were involved in INCLUDES before it became part of the Big 10. Addressing NSF 2026, look for a competition for ideas, including a video competition, from which it’s hoped two to four great ideas will emerge. The committee also heard from liaisons to committees on cyberinfrastructure, environmental research and education, equal opportunities in science and engineering, and the Small Business Innovative Research/Technology Transfer program. A full solicitation for future Engineering Research Centers is expected before the end of this calendar year.

THE PENTAGON's I-CORPS: The Department of Defense has launched a pilot program modeled on NSF's Innovation Corps (I-Corps). See the program announcement for I-Corps @ DoD. 


Source: National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NSF). Click here for an interactive version.

Source: National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NSF). Click here for an interactive version. Note: "MHT manufacturing industries are based on a former classification by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and include automotive; chemicals (excluding pharmaceuticals); electrical machinery; motor vehicles; railroad, shipbuilding, and other transportation equipment; and machinery, equipment, and appliances." ROW = rest of world



ENGINEERING FRATERNITY OUSTED: Syracuse University has permanently expelled Theta Tau over a video that the university says "shows brothers of the professional engineering fraternity acting out a racist, anti-Semitic oath." The fraternity's national organization, in a statement on its website, said "Theta Tau has a no tolerance policy for this troubling and offensive behavior, and the actions of these individuals are truly disgraceful." The group said the video "was a parody, skit, or roast of the active brothers by a pledge class," but added, "this does not excuse the behavior." Theta Tau, founded  Minnesota in 1904, bills itself as "the oldest, largest, and foremost fraternity for engineers" with an emphasis "on quality and a strong fraternal bond."


UNATTRACTIVE CAREER PATH: This is increasingly the case in biomedical research, according to a new National Academies report. It cites "the gulf between the burgeoning number of scientists qualified to participate in this system as academic researchers and the elusive opportunities to establish long-term research careers in academia." Women and underrepresented minorities face persistent and endemic obstacles, it says. In addition, "too many newly awarded biomedical Ph.D., M.D., and M.D.-Ph.D. holders spend prolonged periods in postdoctoral positions currently characterized by low salaries, inadequate training and mentorship, and few opportunities for independent research or professional advancement." The field's diminishing ability to recruit the best minds could result in "increasingly conservative research proposals" instead of innovative ones. 

SMART WATER SYSTEMS, bespoke plants, battery life cycles, and solar system travel are topics explored in the spring issue of The Bridge, put out by the National Academy of Engineering. 


ASEE IS CO-HOSTING the First Annual CoNECD (Collaborative Network for Engineering and Computing Diversity - pronounced “connected”) Conference April 29 to May 2. It will be a forum on enhancing diversity and inclusion of underrepresented groups in engineering and computing. CoNECD will encompass many diverse groups, including those based on gender (including gender identity and gender expression), race and ethnicity, disability, veterans, LGBTQ+, 1st generation and socio-economic status. It's a collaboration of ASEE's Minorities in Engineering and Women in Engineering divisions and several outside groups. Registration is now open. Find out more.

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