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                         November 23, 2019                             




A bipartisan Senate report says U.S. grant-making agencies "did little to prevent this from happening, nor did the FBI and other federal agencies develop a coordinated response . . . .These failures continue to undermine the integrity of the American research enterprise and endanger our national security." The  report says of the National Science Foundation: "In light of Chinese talent recruitment plan members’ misappropriation of NSF funding, NSF has taken several steps—albeit insufficient ones—to mitigate this risk." At the National Institutes of Health, "significant gaps" in NIH’s grant integrity process remain." The Department of Energy "has been slow to address vulnerabilities surrounding the openness of its National Labs and its scientific collaboration with the 35,000 foreign nationals who conduct research at the National Labs each year." The State Department’s "review process leads to less than five percent of reviewed applicants being denied a visa," and the agency does not systematically track "visa applicants linked to China’s talent recruitment plans." The Commerce Department "rarely denies" deemed export licenses to firms that employ or host foreign nationals seeking to work on controlled technology projects.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio (on the right, above) chair of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Investigations, whose staff prepared the report, said "If universities can vet employees for scientific rigor or allegations of plagiarism they also can vet for financial conflicts of interests and foreign sources of funding."  Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., added: "Due to our lax oversight of federal research grants and the ineffective and mixed messages agencies have been delivering to schools and researchers on this topic over the years, we’ve given the Chinese and likely other countries a running start."

NSF's, witness, Rebecca Keiser, told the panel that a report on research security by the independent scientific advisory group JASON "is nearly complete, and we expect it to be made public in the next few weeks. We plan to share its findings and recommendations widely." John Brown of the FBI said, "With our present-day knowledge of the threat from Chinese talent plans, we wish we had taken more rapid and comprehensive action in the past, and the time to make up for that is now.."

See an account on the hearing by Lewis-Burke Associates. 

A HIGHER ED SECURITY BOARD? The congressionally mandated U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission urges in its annual report that  "Congress  direct  the  U.S.  Department  of  Justice  to  reestablish  a  higher  education  advisory  board" under the FBI, Commerce's Bureau  of  Industry  and  Security, and the Departments  of  Homeland  Security,  and State to "convene  semiannual  meetings  between  university   representatives   and   relevant   federal   agencies   to   review the adequacy of protections for sensitive technologies and research, identify patterns and early warning signs in academic espionage, assess training needs for university faculty and staff to comply with export controls and prevent unauthorized transfer of  information,  and  share  other  areas  of  concern  in  protecting  national security." 

HOUSE-SENATE DEAL REPORTED ON SPENDING: The chairs of the House and Senate Appropriations committees--Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) and Richard Shelby (R-Ala.)--overcame a key stumbling block in enacting fiscal 2020 spending bills, The Hill reports: they reached a deal late Friday on 302(b)s, which set the top-line number for each of the 12 government funding bills. President Trump signed a stopgap measure Thursday funding the government through Dec. 20, thus avoiding a shutdown and giving lawmakers more time. The two parties remain divided on funding the president's border wall. That dispute is also one of two issues holding up the annual defense authorization bill. "Democrats want to prevent the president from moving more defense funds to pay for border wall construction," according to CQ. The other defense hurdle is the Space Force. "The House would create a division within the Air Force, whereas the White House is pushing for a separate military branch entirely.," CQ reports. 

CONGRESS's THINK TANK: House appropriators want to revive the Office of Technology Assessment, which gave Congress expert science and engineering advice before it was shut down as a cost-saving measure in the 1990s. But the National Academy of Public Administration disagrees. In a recent report, it calls instead for Congress to bolster the Government Accountability Office's science and technology team and create an Office of the Congressional S&T Advisor. The American Institute of Physics' FYI Bulletin has more

COSTLY CARBON CAPTURE: Ernest Moniz, secretary of Energy under former President Obama, hopes to persuade lawmakers to approve a "10-year, $10.7 billion federal carbon dioxide removal research and development program to help address climate change," Bloomberg reports. "Congress has expressed some bipartisan support for carbon capture and storage programs, including direct air capture, but nothing on the level of Moniz’s proposal."  The scale and pace needed for a low-carbon energy transition, has come to be understood as much greater than was put forward just four years ago at the Paris COP21 meeting," E&E News quotes Moniz as saying. Read FYI's account.


NEW COMPUTING HORIZON: An update of the White House's National Strategic Computing Initiave lays out three objectives: "Pioneer  new  frontiers  of  digital  and  non-digital  computation  to  address  the  scientific  and  technological challenges and opportunities of the 21st century";  "Develop, broaden, and advance the nation’s computational infrastructure and ecosystem"; and "Forge  and  expand  partnerships  for  the  future  of  computing  to ensure American  leadership  in  science, technology, and innovation." 

WHAT NEXT FOR U.S.-CHINA JOINT RESEARCH? Kelvin Droegemeier, director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, says he recognizes that all the new federal attention to research security means the government will have to provide guidance. "I've had people, including top-line presidents of our major universities say to me, 'I got a call from a friend in China that I collaborated with before and they want to collaboratee with me again and I don't know what to tell them.' So there's a lot of dust still in the air," he told the National Science Board this week. See his remarks (You'll need to register first.).

'UPCYCLING' PLASTIC: The Department of Energy's Plastics Innovation Challenge seeks to develop: novel collection technologies to prevent plastics from entering the ocean; biological and chemical methods for deconstructing plastic waste, including from rivers and oceans, into useful chemical streams; technologies to upcycle waste chemical streams into higher-value products, which reduces energy intensity and encourages further recycling; new plastics that are recyclable-by-design and can be scaled for domestic manufacturability; and support a domestic plastics upcycling supply chain for U.S. companies to scale and deploy new technologies in domestic and global markets. It's likely some of these strategies will be discussed at DOE's Plastics for a Circular Economy Workshop Dec. 11–12, 2019, in Golden, Colo. Learn more.

ENERGY FRONTIERS: The Department of Energy anticipates spending $40 million in FY 2020 to support Energy Frontier Research Centers conducting fundamental research on: "quantum information science, microelectronics, environmental management and polymer upcycling (developing the chemistry to convert waste plastics into fuels and other high-value products)." Learn more.

EARLY CAREER AWARDS: DOE expects to make aboutr 65 awards, beginning in FY 2020,totalling $49 million.  "Applicants should request project support for five years, with the release of out-year support contingent on adequate progress of the research."  Awards are expected to begin in FY 2020. Learn more.

DATA STORAGE USING BIOLOGY: Semiconductor Synthetic Biology for Information Storage and Retrieval (SemiSynBio-II) is the name of a "high-risk, high-return" National Science Foundation program addressing "the fundamental scientific issues and technological challenges associated with the underpinnings of synthetic biology integrated with semiconductor technology. This research will foster interactions among various disciplines including biology, physics, chemistry, materials science, computer science and engineering that will enable heretofore unanticipated breakthroughs." Find out more.

172 RESEARCHERS AT 91 INSTITUTIONS will share $49 milion awarded by the Pentagon's Defense University Research Instrumentation Program. See the list of winning proposals.

SPOTTY PROGRESS: The Government Accountability looked into how science agencies have responded to a 2013 directive  "to create plans for increasing access to publications and data" funded by the taxpayer. GAO found "seven agencies have not taken steps to make data findable, such as creating a single web access point; four don’t require all researchers to submit a plan to provide access to data; 11 don’t fully ensure that researchers comply with access requirements." NSF "currently plans to adopt a shared services model, which would allow it to leverage third party services such as Google Dataset Search to access NSF-funded data. However, NSF officials did not note a timeframe for implementing this approach." GAO made 37 recommendations. See the highlights and the full report.


Source: National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. Click here for an interactive version giving specific numbers for each year. 


Source: 2019 Annual Report of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission 


PULLING IN THE PRIVATE SECTOR: Increases in government-funded R&D "result in significant increases in private sector R&D in that industry or firm," says a study put out by the IZA Institute of Labor Economics, an independent economic research institute supported  by the Deutsche Post  Foundation. "A 10 percent increase in government-financed R&D generates 4.3% additional privately funded R&D. An analysis of wages and employment suggests that the increase in private R&D expenditure reflects actual increases in R&D employment, not just higher labor costs. Our estimates imply that some of the existing cross-country differences in private R&D investment are due to cross-country differences in defense R&D expenditures. We also find evidence of international spillovers, as increases in government-funded R&D in a particular industry and country raise private R&D in the same industry in other countries. Finally, we find that increases in private R&D induced by increases in defense R&D result in significant productivity gains." 


STORM SURGE: In its 2007 report, "Rising Above the Gathering Storm," a National Academies panel warned that "U.S. advantages in the marketplace and in science and technology have begun to erode," and called for a "comprehensive and coordinated federal effort" to bolster U.S. competitiveness. Now a new panel is studying "the implications of the loss of U.S. economic capability and leadership relative to other countries on issues such as national security, unemployment or underemployment of the U.S. workforce, and international development and global stability." Led by Erica Fuchs (left), a professor of engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon, and geneticist Eric Lander, president of the Broad Institute at MIT and Harvard, the committee includes former Stanford president John Hennessy and former Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.).  

QUANTUM VULNERABILITIES: A National Academies workshop report notes: "Much of the current expertise in materials and components relevant to quantum technologies, such as single-photon detectors, is found outside the United States, raising potential supply chain concerns." If quantum-enabled systems are to become critical for the Pentagon, "assured domestic sources of materials, manufacturing capabilities, and expertise" are needed. The report goes on: "Currently, researchers are in an era of noisy intermediate-scale quantum (NISQ) computers. These systems have errors and other aspects that are not fully understood, making it difficult to prove their characteristics and find applications. Nonetheless, experimenting with them will still reveal many unknowns about quantum mechanics and computing. Read the report.


FOOD-ENERGY-WATER NEXUS: The National Science Foundation will cover registration for certain qualified attendees of an upcoming conference on this topic in New York, according to the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. Learn more here and here.

ELEVATOR ELOQUENCE: See a video of the 2019 NSF Engineering Research Centers' Perfect Pitch Competition and try to guess the winner.


Dec. 2019 Webinar – Insights from NSF GOLD on Increasing Underrepresented Minority Recruitment and Retention: Tune in for a free webinar on Dec. 10 at 1:00 PM, ET, during which GeoDES and Sparks for Change teams supported by NSF GOLD (GEO Opportunities for Leadership in Diversity) will share insights and lessons learned from their innovative professional development projects developed to increase the engagement, recruitment, and retention of URM faculty in the sciences. Register now: http://bit.ly/31nQjPL


ASEE is seeking applications and nominations for the position of Editor‐in‐Chief for the journal Advances in Engineering Education. The anticipated start date for this volunteer position is July 1, 2020, with applications due this fall. Learn more here.

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