May 05, 2017 Capitol Update

In this issue:


On April 25, ASME once again served as the lead organizer of the annual “Engineering Public Policy Symposium.” The Symposium is in its 14th year and successfully brought together 150 leaders - Presidents, Presidents-Elect and Executive Directors - from 44 engineering societies, representing more than two million engineers. The Symposium was convened in conjunction with the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) Convocation, held in Washington, DC the previous day.

Symposium attendees met in the Rayburn House Office Building for most of the day and heard from thought leaders, government officials, Congressional members, and staff from both sides of the aisle about policy priorities pertaining to federal investments in engineering and science to spur innovation and competiveness.

Charla Wise, ASME President-Nominee/Elect, opened the meeting by thanking the 44 co-sponsors, and spoke of the need for robust investments in the science and engineering research enterprise to ensure the United States remains a global leader in innovation and economic growth. She was followed by an in-depth review of the status of federal funding for science and engineering research by Matt Hourihan, Director of the R&D Budget and Policy Program at AAAS. Hourihan provided enlightening contrasts between recent Congressional appropriations on R&D and several of the recent proposals from the Trump Administration to reduce R&D funding at key science and engineering agencies.

The Symposium is designed to inform and engage leaders of the engineering community on public policy issues that are important to advancing research and technology. Engineers play a vital role in meeting the challenges currently facing the nation and our future workforce, and the Symposium provides a platform for them to stay engaged in public policies that affect virtually every aspect of the engineering profession.

At the conclusion of the Symposium, several ASME Early Career Leadership Intern Program to Serve Engineering (ECLIPSE) interns and other attendees took the opportunity to go on Congressional visits in their Senators’ and Representatives’ offices and express their support for the aforementioned investments.

Tweets from their visits are at #ASMEHillday and a picture of the interns appears here:

The event is made possible by a grant from the United Engineering Foundation and the Founder Societies, which includes ASME, AIChE, AIME, ASCE, and IEEE-USA.


House and Senate appropriators announced this week a deal for an omnibus spending package to fund the government for the rest of fiscal year 2017. The bill increased spending on energy research programs that President Donald Trump proposed to slash in his ‘skinny’ budget for fiscal 2018, but also provided an increase in defense spending via an emergency spending supplemental.

The Department of Energy, a major target for the Administration’s proposed program eliminations and reductions, would receive $30.8 billion, an increase of $1.1 billion compared to fiscal year 2016. The total represents more than the amounts the House and Senate included in their previously passed fiscal 2017 bills, representing strong support in Congress for DOE’s research activities.

The bill does not include any new money for Yucca Mountain licensing activities, another priority for the Administration in its DOE ‘skinny’ budget request, but does provide strong funding for DOE research entities. Key research programs that would see funding boosts include:

  • The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) would receive $2.1 billion, a $17 million increase; the Trump Administration had proposed cutting EERE’s budget by $516 million in fiscal year 2017.
  • The Office of Nuclear Energy R&D would receive $1.01 billion, an increase of $30 million, and the Office of Fossil Energy R&D would receive $668 million, an increase of $36 million; both programs had been targeted for cuts in the Administration’s “FY17 Reduction Options” document.
  • The Office of Science, which funds national laboratory infrastructure, would receive $5.4 billion, up $42 million over fiscal 2016; the Trump Administration had proposed a cut of $900 million.
  • The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program, proposed for elimination by the Trump Administration, would receive $306 million, up $15 million over fiscal 2016.


In addition, ITET received $50 million, down from $125 million last year.

The bill reduces funding for the Environmental Protection Agency by only $81 million, but maintains strong support for EPA Science & Technology programs with $714 million in overall support. Similarly, the bill reduces funding to $952 million for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), a $12 million reduction, but provides $130 million for the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership, another program proposed for elimination by the Trump Administration. Within NIST, the bill also includes $25 million in funding for the Manufacturing USA institutes program.

Finally, the bill funds the National Science Foundation (NSF) at $7.472 billion, an increase of $8.7 million over the FY2016 enacted amount, and $34.1 billion for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a $2.0 billion boost over last year and a stark contrast to the Administration’s proposal for over $5.6 billion in cuts from the NIH. Also notable, the bill includes $260 million for President Obama’s BRAIN Initiative, an increase of $110 million over last year.

Additional summary information is available at:

The full text is available at:


At a recent hearing on ‘Opportunities to Improve American Energy Infrastructure,’ opening remarks from Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee Chair Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) focused on the work ahead to revitalize energy infrastructure, most of which is privately held.

Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA) said she was working with the Chair to develop a bipartisan energy bill that will make needed investments in energy infrastructure, as well as the workforce necessary to build and operate the infrastructure. According to the most recent Quadrennial Energy Review, the United States needs to develop approximately 200,000 new workers with STEM skills to operate the electric grid of the future.

Proposals thus far would double the amount of funding for cybersecurity for critical infrastructure assets and improve the security of the energy supply chain. Sen. Cantwell called upon the President to protect the public from growing cyber threats and also asked that the President clarify his intention to make the Department of Energy the lead agency in the nation’s cybersecurity matters, both on the defense side, and on the response side of energy infrastructure cyberattacks.

Hearing witnesses included representatives from Pacific Power, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Dominion Energy, the National Hydropower Association, Laborers' International Union of North America, and Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

To review the full witness testimony, please visit:


In an expected turn of events, the University of California (UC) filed its appeal on April 12 to overturn the U.S. Patent Trial and Appeal Board’s (PTAB) decision that there was no interference between the university’s and the Broad party’s patent applications for CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology.

The appeal seeks to bring back the interference, a proceeding to settle priority issues between multiple patent applications. The PTAB found the two institutions’ uses of CRISPR technology separately patentable. Its reasoning was that UC failed to establish that there would have been a reasonable expectation of success in using the CRISPR in eukaryotic cells in light of UC’s use of CRISPR in prokaryotic cells -- pro means before and kary means nucleus. Broad’s use of the technology was specifically in eukaryotic cells. Nonetheless, UC’s attorney says they are not separate inventions, but rather Broad’s use encompasses what UC inventors has already invented using the CRISPR system to make repairs and modifications to the genome.

Another way to look at this situation that allows for separate patents to be issued is that UC’s patent is a “pioneering patent” while Broad’s would be an “improvement patent,” and that the real issue is whether the patent for the eukaryotic application was a separate invention.

“We are confident the Federal Circuit will affirm the PTAB decision and recognize the contribution of the Broad, MIT and Harvard in developing this transformative technology,” said Lee McGuire, a spokesperson for the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in an online statement.
Harvard geneticist George Church said he expects the disputes will end in cross-licensing and that there will be significant benefits to patients.

Meanwhile, UC has already won a patent in the United Kingdom and the European Patent office is expected to award another by May 10.

More information about the reasoning of the PTAB decision can be found at:


After a two-year study, the Committee on Engineering Technology Education in the United States, under the auspices of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), has published its report, Engineering Technology Education in the United States, which details the status, role, and needs of engineering technology (ET) education.

The study was discussed at a recent Capitol Hill briefing with remarks from Katharine Frase, NAE Committee Co-chair and IBM Corporation (ret.), Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY), Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH), Co-chair, House Manufacturing Caucus, and Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY), Co-chair, House Manufacturing Caucus.

The emergence and growth in engineering technology (ET) degrees is due to the following factors: (1) America’s desire to maintain its preeminence as a leader in technology and innovation; (2) a series of engineering education reports; (3) the development of technical institutes; (4) the expansion of the junior and community college programs in technical education; and (5) the movement of U.S. engineering education toward curricula that emphasize science knowledge and theory and advanced mathematics. The convergence of the first three factors provided the impetus for the creation of the two-year ET programs that exist and when adding in the last two factors, four-year ET programs were created.

However, there is an overlap between engineering and ET since both emphasize math and science; engineering technology classes will emphasize the application of engineering techniques and the engineering courses will focus on the development of concepts. Accordingly, the term “technologist” is generally used to distinguish baccalaureate engineering technology graduates from baccalaureate graduates of engineering programs, while those graduating from two-year program are called ‘technicians.” Nonetheless, there is no consistency in the use of the words “technologist” versus “technician.” Salary ranges for both are in the low $50,000s and relatively stagnant, while engineers are seeing average real wages rising 23 percent, from $70,000 to $86,000 annually.

The report also found a lack of awareness of ET education. This lack of awareness extends into the K-12 education system, and the committee discovered there was little evidence of formal outreach or communication to K-12 teachers, students, or students’ parents concerning ET and its connection to postsecondary education and employment. Plus, there is confusion as to the differences between those with ET training versus engineering training.

Some of the report’s recommendations include:

  • Within academia, it is critical for leaders of two- and four-year ET programs to engage more meaningfully in discussion with leaders in postsecondary engineering education about the similarities and differences between the two variants of engineering and how they might complement one another while serving the interests of a diverse student population.
  • The ET education community should consider ways to make the field’s value proposition more evident to K-12 teachers, students, and students’ parents, as well as to employers. For example, new messaging could be developed that could rebrand ET as “applied engineering” and simplify degree nomenclature.

The report is available here:


A National Eye Institute (NEI) 2016 workshop resulted in a report that provides recommendations for regenerating retinal ganglion cells (RGCs), crucial neurons in the back of the eye that carry visual information to the brain and which are incapable of regenerating on their own in humans after damage from glaucoma or other optic neuropathies where there is damage to the optic nerve.

“Replacing RGCs is a major challenge for the National Eye Institute’s AGI (Audacious Goal Initiative),” said Steven Becker, Ph.D., who coordinates the initiative—a sustained effort by the NEI to catalyze research aimed at restoring vision by regenerating the retina.

Two possible therapeutic strategies for RGC regeneration are discussed in the report. The first is to use stem cells to grow RGCs, but there are challenges. Challenges include knowing at which stage of maturity these lab-grown cells should be transplanted to a patient’s retina to integrate into the damaged retina and even generating enough of them to perform a transplant. The second is to recruit other cell types in a patient’s retina for reprogramming into RGCs. In nature, amphibians and adult zebrafish regenerate RGCs by reprogramming cells in the retina. However, the key to unlocking this potential is understanding the cues that direct their maturation and integration with other cells.

The report is available here:

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