January 8, 2015
Capitol Update

In this issue:


Keystone Legislation Kicks Off 114th Congress

The 114th Congress was sworn in on Tuesday, January 6, 2014.  Among the first pieces of legislation that will be considered by both the House and the Senate is a bill to authorize the Keystone XL pipeline. 

New Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX), said that a hearing and markup would take place as soon as possible, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) likely substituting the committee-approved bill for what’s considered on the floor. The Energy Committee’s planned Thursday markup of the Keystone bill is still on the schedule and could go forward without a hearing preceding it, should the Senate adopt an organizing resolution Wednesday.

Republican leadership anticipates considering the bill “for at least several weeks,” said Senator John Hoeven (R-ND), lead sponsor of the bill. The measure approving the project already has 60 cosponsors and three other senators have indicated their support. Hoeven and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-WV), the lead Democratic cosponsor, said they think the amendment process for the bill will encourage bipartisan cooperation. If some amendments were adopted — depending on their content — they could help build even more support for the bill, Manchin said, and maybe even convince the White House to accept it.

President Barack Obama would veto the Keystone XL pipeline if it reaches his desk, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday. “I can confirm for you that if this bill passes this Congress then the president wouldn’t sign it…The pipeline route has not even been finalized yet,” he added, referring to a Nebraska Supreme Court case that has yet to be decided. That ruling could come as soon as Friday, or later.

Hoeven has acknowledged that advancing Keystone legislation could become a “two-step process” should President Barack Obama veto the bill, since Republicans lack the 67 votes needed to override a presidential veto. Republicans are then expected to try to move a measure approving the pipeline through other legislative vehicles, including appropriations bills.
But that hasn’t stopped Hoeven and other Keystone supporters from reaching out to the administration to see if there’s a deal to be made. Hoeven said he offered to meet with the White House on broader energy infrastructure issues — including the need for more pipelines in the North Dakota oil patch to carry natural gas away from wells — and was told officials would discuss the issue with him.

Once Nebraska Supreme Court’s ruling is issued and routing issues are worked out, the State Department may resume consideration of the pipeline project. Thus far, the Department has found that the pipeline would have a negligible impact on greenhouse gas emissions, despite the higher carbon intensity for oil sands derived oil.

For updated news on this debate, please visit http://ppec.asme.org/key-issues/energy/


Deadline to Apply for ASME Fellowships Fast Approaching! Learn More About ASME's 2014 and 2015 Congressional Fellows by Visiting the ASME PPEC!

The January 31st deadline to apply for a 2015-2016 ASME Congressional Fellowship and an ASME Foundation Swanson Fellowship at the Advanced Manufacturing National Program Office Fellowship is fast approaching! 

Since 1973, ASME has sponsored over 100 Federal Fellows, providing them with an opportunity to serve a one-year term in the Administration or U.S. Congress.  Fellows serve as independent, non-biased advisors in engineering, science and technology, bringing a nonpartisan, pragmatic approach to analysis and input which has a profound impact on the decision making process. The result is effective and technologically appropriate public policy based on sound engineering principles.

The new 114th Congress will address major legislative and policy issues that are facing our nation and as federal legislation becomes increasingly technical, the need for engineering expertise is essential, which is why this program is so invaluable. 

Read more about the opportunities and challenges confronting our current and past fellow by visiting the PPEC:

  • ASME’s 2015 Congressional Fellow is Dr. Briana Tomboulian, a NASA Graduate Research Fellow who earned her Ph.D. from the UMass Amherst Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department in September 2014.    Dr. Tomboulian will be serving in the office of Senator Edward Markey (D-MA) as of January 1, 2015. To read more about Dr. Tomboulian, visit http://ppec.asme.org/    
  • From September 2013 through August 2014, Mahantesh Hiremath, Ph.D., served as one of two ASME Congressional Fellows who spent a year-long term on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology (SST) providing engineering and scientific insight to policymakers in Washington, D.C. Learn more about Dr. Hiremath’s experience at http://ppec.asme.org/washington-insider/former-asme-congressional-fellow-reflects-on-his-year-in-congress/

To learn more about ASME Federal Government Fellowship Program, or to apply for one of the 2015-2016 Fellowships, visit https://www.asme.org/about-asme/get-involved/advocacy-government-relations/federal-fellows-program


NASA Selects Commercial Space Partners for Collaborative Partnerships

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has announced the selection of four U.S. companies to collaborate with NASA through unfunded partnerships to develop new space capabilities available to the government and other customers. The partnerships build on the success of NASA's commercial spaceflight initiatives to leverage NASA experience and expertise into new capabilities.

The Collaborations for Commercial Space Capabilities (CCSC) initiative is designed to advance private sector development of integrated space capabilities through access to NASA’s spaceflight resources and ensure emerging products or services are commercially available to government and non-government customers within approximately the next five years.

The companies selected for the Collaborations for Commercial Space Capabilities and their projects are:

ATK Space Systems, in Beltsville, Maryland, is developing space logistics, hosted payload and other space transportation capabilities.
Final Frontier Design, in Brooklyn, New York, is developing intra-vehicular activity space suits.
Space Exploration Technologies, in Hawthorne, California, is developing space transportation capabilities that could be used to support missions into deep space.
United Launch Alliance, in Centennial, Colorado, is developing new launch vehicle capabilities to reduce cost and enhance performance.

The Space Act Agreements (SAAs) have no exchange of funds, and each party bears the cost of its participation. NASA's contributions could include technical expertise, assessments, lessons learned, technologies and data. Sharing this existing expertise in a structured way requires minimal government resources while fostering the development of technologies to enable NASA to achieve its strategic goal to expand human exploration of the solar system and to advance exploration, science, innovation, benefits to humanity, and international collaboration.

For more information about NASA initiatives and commercial space, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/exploration/commercial/index.html


NSF Report: Expected Stay Rates of US and Foreign Doctoral Graduates Diverge with Time

A new National Science Foundation (NSF) report reveals the number of U.S. citizen doctoral graduates in science, engineering and health fields, who remain in the United States, tracks closely with their intent to stay in the United States at the time of graduation. However, there are noticeable differences for doctoral graduates who were temporary visa holders at the time of graduation.

According to the report, 96.4 percent of U.S. citizen doctoral graduates from academic years 2001-09 reported their intent to live in the United States, a measure referred to as the expected stay rate. In 2010, 96.2 percent--the actual stay rate--were still living in the United States.

Among doctoral graduates who were temporary visa holders, 76.4 percent reported their intention to stay in the United States. However, the actual and expected stay rates diverge as time since graduation increases. By 2010, only 68.5 percent of graduates with a temporary visa remained in the United States.

The data presented in this report are important for policymakers and researchers who are interested in understanding the factors influencing the employment decisions of doctoral degree holders.

To review this report, Employment Decisions of U.S. and Foreign Doctoral Graduates: A Comparative Study, please visit: http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2015/nsf15302/


GAO Assessment: DOE's Risk Assessments Should Be Strengthened

A recent assessment by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that Department of Energy (DOE) developed a process to assess its programs for risks of improper payments, but its assessments do not fully evaluate risk. To comply with the Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Act of 2010 (IPERA), in fiscal year 2011, DOE directed its programs to develop risk assessments using eight qualitative risk factors, such as recent major changes in program funding, and report quantitative information on improper payments.

GAO found that 26 of 55 programs did not prepare risk assessments in 2011 and that the quantitative information reported, including the estimated amount of improper payments, was not reliable because, for example, it did not include information for all programs. In reviewing DOE's 2011 risk assessments, GAO also found the following:

DOE did not always include a clear basis for risk determinations. At least six of the 29 programs that prepared risk assessments did not take into account the eight qualitative risk factors, making the basis of their risk determinations unclear. At most, the assessments for 23 programs took into account the risk factors. However, support for their determinations varied widely, and some did not contain enough information to identify how the program arrived at its risk determination, which is inconsistent with federal standards for internal control. DOE's guidance directs personnel to prepare a risk assessment that considers these eight factors but does not provide further direction on what to include. Absent such direction, DOE personnel may not have a consistent understanding of how to complete their risk assessments.
DOE's risk assessments did not fully evaluate other relevant risk factors, such as weaknesses in key controls for preventing and detecting improper payments—including inadequate subcontractor oversight. GAO found that some risk assessments included information from internal control evaluations, but many did not. DOE guidance does not instruct personnel to consider weaknesses in key controls for preventing and detecting improper payments. Without providing specific examples of other relevant risk factors in guidance and directing personnel to consider them when performing risk assessments, DOE will not have reasonable assurance that each of its programs fully evaluates risks.

In the report, GAO recommends that DOE take steps to improve its risk assessments, including revising guidance on how programs are to address risk factors and providing examples of other risk factors likely to contribute to improper payments and directing programs to consider those factors. DOE concurred with GAO's recommendations.

To read the 44-page analysis, go to http://gao.gov/assets/670/667737.pdf


Key NRC and DOE Presidential Appointments Confirmed

In the final days of the 113th Congress, the Senate acted to confirm several appointments of Presidential nominees, including key nominees for a new Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner (NRC) Commissioner and the Department of Energy’s Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy.

Stephen G. Burns, a 33-year-veteran of the agency and an NRC Commissioner since November, has been designated as Chairman by President Barack Obama effective January 1, 2015. Burns replaces outgoing Chairman Allison Macfarlane, who is stepping down to take a position at George Washington University. Before returning to the NRC, Burns was the Head of Legal Affairs of the Nuclear Energy Agency of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in Paris. Prior to that position, Burns had served at the NRC in a variety of roles, including as the agency’s General Counsel from 2009 to 2012. He began his career at the NRC as an attorney in the Regional Operations and Enforcement Division in 1978.

Christopher A. Smith was formally confirmed by the Senate as the Department of Energy’s Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy; he has been Acting Assistant Secretary for over a year due to delays in the Senate. As Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy, Smith is responsible for the Office of Fossil Energy’s Research and Development program, encompassing coal, oil and natural gas, along with the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Prior to joining the Department, Smith served in managerial and analytical positions in the private sector.  He spent 11 years with two major international oil companies focused primarily on upstream business development and LNG trading, including three years negotiating production and transportation agreements in Bogotá, Columbia.


NEA's E4U2 Video Contest Announced

The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) has announced Engineering for You 2 (E4U2), a contest highlighting how engineering will create a more sustainable, healthy, secure and/or joyous world by addressing the NAE Grand Challenges for Engineering. Entrees must be submitted by 12 Noon on March 2nd.

The competition is open to all individuals or teams in the following four competition categories:
Middle School Students and Younger (grades K-8);
High School Students (grades 9-12);
Tertiary Education Students (two-year college through graduate school, part- or full-time); and,
The General Public.

Employees of the National Academies or ExxonMobil and their immediate families or those living in the same household as a National Academies or ExxonMobil employee are not eligible to enter this competition.

Contest entrants will create and submit a one to two minute video focused on one or more of the 14 National Academy of Engineering (NAE) Grand Challenges for Engineering. The “Best Video Overall” will be awarded $25,000. There is a People’s Choice Award of $5,000, and the top videos in each competition category are eligible for a prize of up to $5,000.

For complete contest rules and how to submit entries, go to http://www.nae.edu/e4u2/


The articles contained in Capitol Update are not positions of ASME or any of its sub-entities, unless specifically noted as such. This publication is designed to inform ASME members about issues of concern being debated and discussed in the halls of congress, in the states and in the federal agencies.


ASME Government Relations
1828 L Street, NW, Suite 810
Washington, DC 20036
Website: http://www.asme.org/about-asme/advocacy-government-relations

  • Melissa Carl covers public policy-related science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and diversity issues for ASME. She can be reached at carlm@asme.org
  • Paul Fakes covers public policy-related energy, standards and environmental issues for ASME. He can be reached at fakesp@asme.org
  • Roy Chrobocinski covers public policy-related research and development (R&D) and manufacturing issues for ASME. He can be reached at chrobocinski@asme.org