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                                   August 17, 2019




Senate Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) plans to take $5 billion out of health and education programs to fund President Trump's border wall, CQ reports. Democrats will find this hard to swallow, but they face additional obstacles in enacting fiscal 2020 appropriations. The House passed 10 spending measures assuming it had $11.5 billion more to spend on domestic discretionary programs than the two-year bipartisan budget deal allows, so appropriations chair Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) and her committee will have to make some cuts. Senate appropriators plan to start voting on their spending measures the week of September 9 and come out with four per week, completing all 12 bills by the end of September, according to CQ. Shelby has kept a tight lid on each of his subcommittee's allocations. The border wall will complicate House-Senate negotiations. Shelby had hoped Congress would act quickly on a "minibus" package of spending bills--Defense, Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and maybe Energy and Water. To keep the government open, a stopgap spending bill will need to be passed before the next fiscal year begins October 1. It would basically keep spending at FY 2019 levels but contain adjustments, known as "anomalies." Although President Trump signed the two-year budget deal into law--along with suspension of the debt limit--no one can predict how he will respond when presented with appropriations bills. 

POLES APART: A Congressional Research Service report on the Energy and Water appropriations process reveals just how sharply the White House and Democratic-led House differ when it comes to energy research and development.  

RECESSION TALK: The bond market sent the kind of signal this week that, historically, suggests a downturn is coming. Economic worries aren't likely to affect the FY 2020 appropriations process, at least not right away. But they have focused new attention on the yawning federal deficit, which could constrain the government's ability to spend its way out of a recession. Citing the latest Congressional Budget Office estimates, CQ reports that the deficit for the first 10 months of fiscal 2019 was $867 billion, "or 27 percent higher than the same period a year earlier. While tax receipts are up 3.3 percent year over year, spending is up by 8 percent, though part of that outlay increase was due to timing shifts in certain benefit payments."

DON'T FAULT R&D: As the graphic below in Databytes illustrates, the modest increase in domestic discretionary spending of recent years is not a big contributor to the deficit. CBO says federal investment on infrastructure, research and development, and education consumes a smaller share of the budget and the economy than in the 1960s. Back then, "federal investment represented more than 30 percent of federal spending and averaged nearly 6 percent of GDP.". 

AI ETHICS: Look for the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee to come up with ideas for legislation following its hearing earlier this summer on artificial intelligence. . Ranking Republican Frank Lucas (Okla.) says "it’s clear the time is right for the federal government to lead these conversations about AI standards and guidelines." Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Tex.) says, "From improving healthcare, transportation, and education,to helping to solve poverty and improving climate resilience, AI has vast potential to advance the public good. However, . . . if the U.S. does not address AI ethics seriously and thoughtfully, we will lose the opportunity to become a leader in setting the international norms and standards for AI in the coming decades." 


WHITE HOUSE LINK TO ACADEME: Lisa Nichols, who has years of experience at the intersection of university research, government, and advocacy groups, recently joined the Office of Science and Technology Policy as assistant director for academic engagement. She'll likely play a key staff role on the Joint Committee on Research Environments (JCORE), set up to "address the most pressing challenges facing America’s researtch and scientific community." JCORE has four subcommittees: Safe and Inclusive Research Environments, dealing with, among other things, sexual harassment; Research Security, dealing with espionage and protection of intellectual property; Rigor and Integrity in Research; and Reducing Administrative Burdens. Nichols most recently was director of research regulatory reform at the Council on Governmental Relations. Photo: LinkedIn.

NSF, INTEL, AND MACHINE LEARNING: The National Science Foundation is partnering with the chip giant "to accelerate fundamental, broad-based research on wireless-specific machine learning (ML) techniques, towards a new wireless system and architecture design, which can dynamically access shared spectrum, efficiently operate with limited radio and network resources, and scale to address the diverse and stringent quality-of-service requirements of future wireless applications." It will also address "the challenge of computation over wireless edge networks to enable ML for wireless and future applications." Learn more.

RESEARCH SUPPORT FOR ENGINEERING STUDENTS: NSF grantees can apply for supplemental funding intended to "connect student design projects to innovative, NSF-supported research and the latest advances in engineering science; expose students to the discovery process of research while preparing them for their roles in the engineering workforce; and provide a team of students with the funds necessary to pursue the design process, from need finding, industry and customer discovery, through prototyping and validation." Learn more.

WHO KNOWS IF IT'S WORKING? The Government Accountability Office looked into the Centers for Academic Excellence, a grant program "designed to encourage highly-qualified college students with diverse backgrounds to pursue careers at U.S. Intelligence Community entities like the CIA. From 2005-2018, 29 colleges received 46 grants totaling about $69 million. The Intelligence Community doesn't know if the program is achieving its goal of increasing diversity in its applicant pool. In addition, Intelligence Community entities are unclear about their responsibilities in the program and need to improve their participation." See the GAO recommendations.

TOO BIG TO FAIL? NASA's mega engineering projects, such as its big telescopes, tend to fall behind schedule, bust budgets, and then, once launched, enable stunning discoveries--sometimes long past their supposed expiration dates. As a National Academies decadal survey gets under way, the future of large-scale telescopes hangs in the balance, the American Institute of Physics' FYI bulletin reports. Paul Hertz, the director of the agency’s Astrophysics Division, made the case "that these missions are still well worth pursuing." At a separate session, Grace Hu, of the Office of Management and Budget, sounded a cautionary note: When large missions encounter problems, “it's really hard to cancel or significantly rework them due to entrenched interests because they end up being too big to fail.”, (At right, the Large UV Optical Infrared telescope, one of four concepts under review.) 

'5 COOL TECHNOLOGIES': The National Institute of Bioimedical Imaging and Bioengineering keeps it simple with this video showing: a non-invasive method to measure glucose levels for diabetics; a wearable ultrasound patch for continuous monitoring of blood pressure; a painless, 15-second scan for breast cancer; a mechanism to count white blood cells in patients undergoing chemotherapy to lower infection risk, and prosthetics that allow a natural sense of touch. 

LAB TO MARKET: An NIBIB funding Opportunity helps previously funded small-businesses get projects to the commercial stage "by providing additional support for technical assistance not typically supported through Phase II or Phase IIB grants or contracts. This may include preparation of documents for a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) submission, development of an intellectual property strategy, and/or planning for a clinical trial." .


Source: Congressional Budget Office, Federal Investment, 1962 to 2018

Source: College faculty have become more racially and ethnically diverse, but remain far less so than students


AUTONOMOUS SYSTEMS AND VALUES: A IEEE publication says the full benefit of autonomous and intelligent systems "will be attained only if they are aligned with society’s defined values and ethical principles." The Ethically Aligned Design project is intended "to establish frameworks to guide and inform dialogue and debate around the non-technical implications of these technologies, in particular related to ethical aspects. We understand 'ethical' to go beyond moral constructs and include social fairness, environmental sustainability, and our desire for self-determination."


MATERIAL GAINS: "The science and engineering are exciting, the prospects for creating and controlling new materials are high, and the pathway to important applications is very encouraging," a National Academies panel says in a decadal report on materials research. It foresees future advances in  sustainable manufacturing. "This opportunity calls especially for cooperation between universities, national laboratories, and industry," and continued investment in research infrastructure "at all levels." Read the report.


CHENNAI BECKONS; The Global Student Forum will be held November 12-16 in Chennai, India, concurrent with the World Engineering Education Forum. 

SEPTEMBER 2019 WEBINAR: Insights on Building your Female Leadership Pool How can you build your college’s female leadership pool? On Sept. 11 at 11:00 AM, ET, University of Michigan’s Alec Gallimore (Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering) and Jennifer Linderman (Director of the ADVANCE Program) will explore four key approaches<https://www.chronicle.com/article/An-Engineering-School-With/246214?utm_source=at&utm_medium=en&cid=at> used at Michigan Engineering to build the female leadership pool, where women now occupy half of the top faculty-leadership roles. Don’t miss out – register today at http://bit.ly/30y42Ub

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