The Monthly SWE Newsletter
July 2014
Public Policy

Senate Committee Approves CJS Appropriations Legislation

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved 30-0 a draft fiscal 2015 Commerce-Justice-Science spending bill that would provide $51.2 billion in discretionary funds for the departments of Justice and Commerce, as well as science agencies. The spending level is $398 million less than the fiscal 2014 level and $1 billion more than requested by President Barack Obama; it is equal to the House level of the bill discussed above. The bill would provide $8.6 billion for the Commerce Department and $17.9 billion for NASA.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is funded at $900 million, which is $50 million above the fiscal year 2014 enacted level. This will fund NIST’s Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) and Advanced Manufacturing Technology Consortia (AMTech) in order to help manufacturers accelerate development and adoption of cutting-edge manufacturing technologies.

The bill provides the full request of $7.2 billion for the National Science Foundation (NSF), an increase of $83 million over fiscal year 2014. The increase will provide 140 more competitive grants supporting 2,000 more technicians, teachers, scientists, and students in fiscal year 2015.

The $17.9 billion in the bill for NASA will preserve a NASA portfolio balanced among science, aeronautics, technology, and human space flight investments. It funds NASA to continue to work with private companies to build new crew transportation and fueling a new satellite servicing industry that can revive, refuel, and rejuvenate defunct communications satellites. The amount provided for NASA is $439 million above the President’s request and $254 million above the fiscal year 2014 enacted level.

It is unclear when the full Senate will take up this legislation.

The Committee report may be reviewed here.

House Passes FY 2015 Funding Bill for NASA, NIST, and NSF

The House of Representatives passed its Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations legislation to fund NASA, NIST, and the NSF for the coming fiscal year starting on October 1st.  The bill passed by a vote of 321 to 87.

During consideration of the legislation, Frank Wolf, Chairman of the CJS Appropriations Subcommittee, remarked that “A primary area of focus in the bill this year is scientific research, innovation and competitiveness. Investing in basic research is key to growth and job creation, and it is the foundation for the economic security of future generations which enables us to stay ahead of China.”

The subcommittee wrote the FY 2015 bill under difficult circumstances. Overall funding was about $400 million less than the current level. In the last five fiscal years the subcommittee has cut total spending by $13.3 billion or 20 percent.

Grants made by NSF’s Social, Behavioral, and Economics (SBE) Directorate were discussed as was the foundation’s grant making process. In introducing his bill, Wolf said, “With increased funding comes increased responsibility. I respect the NSF to follow through on the commitments it has made to the committee to increase accountability and transparency in its grant decision making. No funny grants is what I am trying to say. The new director must take every necessary step to ensure that research grants are scientifically meritorious, that funding allocations reflect national priorities and that the taxpayer investments in science are being used wisely.”

During debate of the legislation, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) offered an amendment to reduce the bill’s FY 2015 funding for the NSF’s Social, Behavioral, and Economics (SBE) directorate by $15.4 million, resulting in level funding of $256.9 million. This funding would be shifted to NSF physical science and engineering grants. The amendment passed by a vote of 208-201.

Other science-related amendments discussed on the floor included one by Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) to move $7 million in NASA funding from space operations to space technology. It was accepted by House members. The House rejected an amendment offered by Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI) to shift $10 million from NASA’s Exploration program to an international trade enforcement program. An amendment by Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) to reduce NSF’s FY 2015 appropriation by $67 million was rejected by voice vote. Rep. Matt Salmon’s (R-AZ) amendment to eliminate NSF funding for research on climate change impacts on Chinese tea was accepted by voice vote. Another amendment that would have affected specific NSF research grants was ruled out of order.

The full bill may be reviewed here.

NSB Seeks Nominations for FY 2015 Honorary Awards

Each year, the National Science Board (NSB) honors leaders with remarkable contributions and public service in science and engineering through its Vannevar Bush and Public Service Awards. Nominations for the 2015 honorary awards are now open until Wednesday, October 1, 2014.

NSB's Vannevar Bush Award is named after the public servant who was behind the creation of the National Science Foundation (NSF). The award honors life-long leaders who have made exceptional contributions toward the welfare of humankind and the nation through public service activities in science, technology, and public policy.

Candidates for the Vannevar Bush award must be U.S. citizens and have demonstrated outstanding leadership and accomplishment in meeting at least two of the following selection criteria:

  • Distinguished him/herself through public service activities in science and technology;
  • Pioneered the exploration, charting and settlement of new frontiers in science, technology, education and public service;
  • Demonstrated leadership and creativity that inspired others to distinguished careers in science and technology;
  • Contributed to the welfare of the nation and humankind through activities in science and technology;
  • Demonstrated leadership and creativity that has helped mold the history of advancements in the nation's science, technology and education.

Past recipients include former Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine, former science advisor and NSF director Neal Lane, and former Carnegie Institution president Maxine Singer. All recipients are listed on the NSB website.

Nomination instructions are available on the Vannevar Bush Award webpage.

The Public Service Award honors individuals and groups for substantial contributions to increasing public understanding of science and engineering in the United States. These contributions may be in a wide variety of areas, including mass media, social media, education, training programs and entertainment.

NSB typically bestows two public service awards each year: one to an individual and one to a company, corporation or organization. Members of the U.S. government are not eligible to receive the award.

Candidates should have demonstrated outstanding leadership and accomplishment in meeting the following selection criteria:

  • Increased public understanding of science and engineering processes through discovery, innovation and public communication;
  • Encouraged others to raise public understanding of science and technology;
  • Promoted engagement of scientists and engineers in public outreach and scientific literacy;
  • Contributed to the development and support of broad science and engineering policy;
  • Influenced and encouraged the next generation of scientists and engineers;
  • Achieved broad recognition outside of the candidate's area of specialization;
  • Fostered awareness of science and technology among broad segments of the population.

Moira Gunn, Host of Tech Nation; Craig Barrett, Intel Corporation; and, the PBS series "NOVA," are all past awardees. A complete list of recipients, as well as nomination instructions, can be found on the award webpage.

SWE Highlighted at White House Summit on Working Families

On June 23rd, SWE FY14 President Stacey DelVecchio attended the White House Summit on Working Families, an event that “convene(d) businesses, economists, labor leaders, legislators, advocates and the media for a discussion on issues facing the entire spectrum of working families – from low-wage workers to corporate executives, from young parents to baby boomers caring for their aging parents.”

President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Dr. Jill Biden all attended the event, and provided remarks.

Included in the event’s fact sheet was a mention of SWE’s upcoming “new online training tools for parents, educators, and mentors to inspire and encourage more young girls to pursue engineering careers. With funding from the S. D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation, the online resource gives parents information and tools to understand how engineering can improve girls’ academic achievement and career prospects, and gives teachers and mentors activities to use with students to engage and build their interests in STEM fields. This new training builds on a series of publicly available tools to encourage women and girls to pursue and succeed in engineering careers.”

Additional information about the Summit can be found here.

New NSF Data: Foreign Graduate Enrollment In Science And Engineering Continues To Rise

According to new data from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the number of citizens and permanent residents enrolled in science and engineering (S&E) graduate programs in the United States declined in 2012, while the number of foreign students studying on temporary visas increased.

The 1.7 percent drop in U.S. citizens and permanent residents was countered by a 4.3 percent increase in enrollment of foreign S&E graduate students on temporary visas. Overall, growth of S&E graduate student enrollment stalled for the second year in a row in 2012 (the most recent year for which data is available) after experiencing annual increases of two to three percent from 2005 to 2010. S&E graduate enrollment grew by less than one percent in 2011 and 2012.

These findings are from the fall 2012 Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering, cosponsored by the NSF and the National Institutes of Health. More information can be found here.

National Academy of Engineering Report Examines “STEM Integration in K-12 Education"

K-12 STEM education has tended to focus on the individual subjects, most often science and mathematics. However, recent reform efforts, like the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), are stressing STEM connections—in the case of NGSS, between science and engineering.

“STEM Integration in K-12 Education” examines current efforts to connect the STEM disciplines in K-12 education. This report identifies and characterizes existing approaches to integrated STEM education in formal and after- and out-of-school settings. The report reviews the evidence for the impact of integrated approaches on various student outcomes and it proposes a set of priority research questions to advance the understanding of an integrated STEM education. “STEM Integration in K-12 Education” proposes a framework to provide a common perspective and vocabulary for researchers, practitioners and others to identify, discuss and investigate specific integrated STEM initiatives within the K-12 education system of the United States.

Finally, the report makes recommendations for designers of integrated STEM experiences, assessment developers and researchers to design and document effective integrated STEM educations.

Read the180-page publication.

Science Committee Approves “FIRST Act” Along Party Lines

After a lengthy and somewhat contentious markup, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee approved the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science and Technology (FIRST) Act (H.R. 4186) by a vote of 20-16 on May 28. The bill reauthorizes and prioritizes federal investments at the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) by funding research and development (R&D) to address national needs. The legislation also sets priorities to drive the nation’s investments in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education programs.

The FIRST Act would require that the NSF publish a justification of each grant’s scientific merits and relevance to the broad national interest in order to meet minimum standards of public accountability and transparency in its grant funding decisions. The FIRST Act does not change NSF’s peer review process. Provisions of the FIRST Act also broaden the definition of STEM education to include computer science and supports student participation in nonprofit competitions, out-of-school activities and field experiences related to STEM.

After the vote, the Committee Republicans issued this statement.

In response, the committee’s democrats issued a press release which highlighted the difference in support between the COMPETES Act of 2010 and the FIRST Act. COMPETES was endorsed by four university associations; thirteen business associations including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers; 26 scientific and professional societies; 37 additional associations; 576 private companies; and 96 major colleges and universities. As far as committee democrats know, the FIRST Act has received no endorsements for the bill as a whole. In fact, many organizations expressed concern about authorized funding levels in the FIRST Act being below levels previously approved by the House Appropriations Committee.  Additionally, outside organizations had concerns about the prescriptive nature of the legislation as it relates to the NSF grant process. Many groups believe the new policies will not significantly increase accountability or transparency beyond the policies NSF has already enacted.

To read the Science Committee's press release, go here.

Detailed information on the markup itself is available here.

US Secretary of Commerce Announces Designation of 12 Manufacturing Communities

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker announced the first 12 communities that will be designated manufacturing communities as part of the Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership (IMCP) initiative. The U.S. Commerce Department-led program is designed to accelerate the resurgence of manufacturing in communities nationwide by supporting the development of long-term economic development strategies that will help communities attract and expand private investment in the manufacturing sector and increase international trade and exports.

The first 12 manufacturing communities include:

  • Southwest Alabama, led by the University of South Alabama
  • Southern California, led by the University of Southern California Center for Economic Development
  • Northwest Georgia, led by the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission
  • The Chicago metro region, led by the Cook County Bureau of Economic Development
  • South Kansas, led by Wichita State University
  • Greater Portland region in Maine, led by the Great Portland Council of Governments
  • Southeastern Michigan, led by the Wayne County Economic Development Growth Engine
  • The New York Finger Lakes region, led by the City of Rochester
  • Southwestern Ohio Aerospace Region, led by the City of Cincinnati
  • The Tennessee Valley, led by the University of Tennessee
  • The Washington Puget Sound region, led by the Puget Sound Regional Council
  • The Milwaukee 7 region, led by the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee

In order to earn the designation communities had to demonstrate the significance of manufacturing entities already present in their region and develop strategies for investing in six areas: 1) workforce and training, 2) advanced research, 3) infrastructure and site development, 4) supply chain support, 5) trade and international investment, 6) operational improvement and capital access.

For more information on IMCP, visit the U.S. Economic Development Administration website.

Subcommittee on Research and Technology Holds Hearing on “Prizes To Spur Innovation and Technology Breakthroughs"

The House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Technology held a hearing on “Prizes to Spur Innovation and Technology Breakthroughs.” The hearing examined the role of prizes funded by the private sector and federal science agencies in spurring technical innovation. The FIRST Act (H.R. 4186), introduced earlier this year, encourages more public-private partnerships for science and technology prize competitions.

In his opening statement, Committee Chair Lamar Smith (R-TX) observed, “A top priority of the Science Committee is to encourage such innovation and technological advancements. To maintain our competitive advantage, we must continue to support fundamental research and development that encourages the creation and design of next generation technologies ... The FIRST Act improves federal science prize authority. It allows federal science agencies to better partner with the private sector to maximize the value of every taxpayer dollar invested in research and development.”

One witness, Christopher Frangione, vice president of Prize Development for XPrize, summed up the challenge with one quote, “Why find the needle in the haystack when that needle can find you?”  He made it clear that prizes help to “leverage investment, democratize innovation and reduce risk”.

The prepared statements of the hearings witnesses, as well as an archived webcast of the hearing itself, are available at the Committee On Science, Space, and Technology website.

National Science Board Releases Statement on FIRST Act

The National Science Board, the oversight advisory board of the National Science Foundation (NSF), recently released a statement in opposition to the FIRST Act, which is under consideration in the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. The FIRST Act aims to reauthorize programs at NSF, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the White House Office of Standards and Technology (OSTP), and is a follow-up to the America COMPETES Act, of which SWE has been a strong supporter.

This is a rare public response to a piece of legislation currently under consideration by Congress.

Signed by 23 members of the NSB, who are mostly university scientists and administrators, the statement begins, “The National Science Board (NSB) appreciates the historic strong commitment of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology to the National Science Foundation (NSF) and to the research that NSF supports. In the face of global challenges to our Nation’s scientific leadership, NSF must maintain an unwavering focus on enabling scientific breakthroughs and on supporting the next generation of scientists. These scientists’ discoveries will underpin the health of the United States long into the future, especially with respect to its economic growth, prosperity and security.

However, we are concerned that elements of the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science and Technology (FIRST) Act do not advance those goals. In fact, some of its provisions and tone suggest that Congress intends to impose constraints that would compromise NSF’s ability to fulfill its statutory purpose. Some elements of the bill would also impose significant new burdens on scientists that would not be offset by gains to the nation. Our greatest concern is that the bill's specification of budget allocations to each NSF Directorate would significantly impede NSF’s flexibility to deploy its funds to support the best ideas in fulfillment of its mission to “promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense; and for other purposes.”

To read the statement in its entirety, please visit the National Science Board website.

In his response to media sources looking for comment, House Science, Space and Technology Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) remained adamant, saying the NSF’s "last-minute" promises of improved transparency and accountability were "too little, too late."

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