Facebook icon Twitter icon Forward icon

August 19, 2017



That's the import of an August 18 sequestration update from the Office of Management and Budget required by the 2011 Budget Control Act. OMB estimates that House appropriations bills, if enacted, "would result in a sequestration of $72.4 billion in the defense category." Spending bills emerging from the Senate would, if enacted, lead to a sequestration of $2.01 billion in the defense category and $3.8 billion in nondefense. A new spending deal to lift caps imposed by the 2011 law would prevent these automatic cuts. The White House, for its part, backs the House-passed defense measure but "strongly supports fiscally responsible reductions to spending elsewhere in the federal budget." 


By voice vote in mid-July, Republican appropriators OK'd an amendment by Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) left, to one of a series of spending bills headed to the House floor when Congress returns in September. It would have allowed the federal government to hire so-called dreamers - undocumented immigrants who are authorized to work in the United States under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. House Republican leaders felt differently, CQ reports, and used Rules Committee procedures to get the provision removed. DACA has granted deportation relief and work permits to some 800,000 undocumented youth. A group of state attorneys general, led Ken Paxton of Texas, has threatened to sue to shut the program down.

NON-TRADITIONAL FARMS: Various provisions of the House appropriations bill to fund the U.S. Department of Agriculture have an engineering research angle. Among them, according to the committee's report, is the call for "an expanded USDA role in support of the emerging industries of vertical farming, urban agriculture, aquaponics, and alternative forms of agriculture in American cities and surrounding communities. . . . These non-traditional methods of agricultural production have the potential to reduce the use of water and pesticides, improve yields for particular crops, serve lower income populations, and provide year round crops at the local level. USDA should consider intramural and extramural research" to advance technologies in this field. 

INSIDE WORK: Appropriators want to see advances in greenhouse technology "to address the energy and water challenges inherent in four-season production systems, beginning in food insecure communities across the country." They urge the Agricultural Research Service to work with the Department of Energy's national labs "to develop affordable, deployable, and energy- and water-efficient food production platforms for undernourished regions of the country" and also work with DOE in lowering energy costs for greenhouses.

AGRO-TERRORISM - IT'S REAL: So says the House Appropriations panel in urging USDA to coordinate with intelligence and other relevant agencies "to improve response plans, conduct vulnerability assessments, and expand monitoring and surveillance for agroterrorism. The Committee also encourages USDA "to focus on bolstering tracking systems for agricultural products, laboratory networks, and border inspection training."

TOO FEW AFRICAN-AMERICANS are pursuing careers in agriculture, House appropriators contend. They urge the National Institute of Food and Agriculture "to develop a working group that includes leadership from the 1860, 1890, and 1994 institutions within the land grant university system to develop an actionable plan aimed at increasing the number" while "strengthening agricultural education at the university level and creating partnerships for feeder programs into graduate studies to foster the career potential pipeline."

DHS CENTERS OF EXCELLENCE: This program within the Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology operation should maintain 10 centers, appropriators say. They also provide the same amount - $40.5 million - for University Programs as in the current fiscal year, rejecting the Trump administration's proposed $10.7 million cut. 

DO PRIVACY LAWS HINDER MEDICAL ADVANCES? When it comes to prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of spine injuries, the answer is yes, contends Ohio State's William S. Marras, an engineering professor and director of the Spine Research Institute. The Internet of Things, with its advanced sensors and modeling, is "rapidly accelerating the pace of research and development," but laws protecting patient identity "create significant hurdles in attempting to assemble large databases of patient outcomes and hamper the effectiveness of machine learning efforts." Testifying recently before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee, he said: "A process that protects patient’s rights yet still enables the efficient creation of large biomedical databases based upon anonymous patient data would greatly enhance the discovery process." See a video of the hearing.


A 'WE'RE NO. 1' R&D POLICY: Here are the top five headings in a listing of White House R&D priorities: American Military Superiority; American Security; American Prosperity; American Energy Dominance; and American Health. The memo, signed by OMB Director Mick Mulvaney (left) and Michael Kratsios, de facto head of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, offers full-throated support for STEM education and instructs agencies to "give priority to policies and actions that place an emphasis on expanding the STEM workforce to include all Americans, both urban and rural, and including women and other underrepresented groups in STEM fields."

NSF + USAF: "We'll be doing, I think, a lot more collaborations with the Air Force," National Science Foundation Director France Córdova told the National Science Board this week. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, a former congresswoman and president of the South Dakota School of Mines, "wants to deepen relationships with the NSF." Such collaborations would coincide with the White House and House Republican emphasis on military and national security R&D.

WHITHER ERCs? The May 2017 report by the National Academies won't be quite the last word on the future direction of NSF's acclaimed Engineering Research Centers. Dawn Tilbury, NSF's assistant director for engineering, told the NSB a working group will gather input from ERC program managers, other NSF center managers, other recent reports; analyze recommendations from the report (and the) difficulty of implementation vs. potential benefit to the program; prioritize report recommendations, in context and comparison with other NSF center-scale programs (STC, MRSEC); and then draft a solicitation for future ENG center programs. Full proposals won't be due until early 2019, with awards likely coming the following year. Among the report's recommendations is a change in how ERCs are measured. Whereas current reporting emphasizes funding, students, papers, and patents, NSF should try to measure ERC impact: placement of students in positions of influence (and) evidence of center products being widely used. These will be hard to quantify, Tilbury says. 

$25,000 IN PRIZES is being offered by the Department of Energy's fourth Wood Stove Design Challenge. The agency seeks "residential biomass heaters that can generate enough electricity to power everything from cellular devices to entire homes." Find out more.

READY FOR RIFs: Without specifically mentioning research agencies, Government Executive reports: "Federal agency managers are privately telling members of the Trump administration they will soon lay off employees, according to Office of Personnel Management officials, and are seeking advice for how to do so in the most effective manner."


Source: Suzi Iacono and Steve Meacham, FY 2016 Merit Review Report (presentation to the National Science Board). National Science Foundation


OPERATORS ARE STANDING BY: The National Academies' Board on Higher Education and Workforce has opened two portals for public input:

  • The Committee on the Next Generation Researchers Initiative seeks information "on the barriers that the next generation of researchers will face as they aspire to and maintain independent research careers." Check out the portal.
  • The Committee on Revitalizing Graduate STEM Education for the 21st Century seeks comments on its Discussion Document "on competencies that might serve as core educational elements or goals at both the master’s and Ph.D. levels." Check out the portal.


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.

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!

Order Your Copies