UO Federal Affairs News

  • TallWood Design Institute Opens One of Nation’s Largest Timber Research Facilities

    First published on at https://archenvironment.uoregon.edu. On Oct. 10, the TallWood Design Institute—a partnership between the College of Design and the OSU Colleges of Forestry and Engineering—hosted the grand opening of the A.A. “Red” Emmerson Advanced Wood Products Laboratory on the OSU campus.

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  • Rep. DeFazio hosts passenger rail roundtable at 510 Oak downtown

    On August 26, U.S. Congressman Peter DeFazio convened a roundtable of Lane County-area decision makers along with state and federal officials to discuss the status and needs of the Amtrak Cascades passenger rail service along the I-5 corridor between Eugene and Portland. The event was held at UO’s new College of Design School of Art and Design’s research studios downtown near the Eugene Amtrak station. The tracks are owned by Union Pacific and their representatives joined the meeting. Senior Associate Vice President for Research Cass Moseley welcomed participants and spoke to the benefits to the University of Oregon from frequent and reliable rail service. Following the roundtable, Interim Dean of the College of Design Laura Vandenburgh led attendees on a tour of the newly renovated 510 Oak building. The group discussed topics including the Cascade’s on-time performance, infrastructure needs, and other performance challenges. Roundtable participants included State Representatives Nancy Nathanson and Marty Wilde, Eugene Mayor Lucy Vinis, and Lane County Commissioner Heather Buch. Union Pacific officials noted that discussions are already underway with the Oregon Department of Transportation and Amtrak about managing conflicts between freight and passenger rail service during the 2021 Track and Field World Championships. Frequent, reliable and timely Amtrak service between Eugene and points north is a long held institutional priority for the University of Oregon and local governments. UO faculty, students and staff use both Amtrak rail and bus service frequently. The growing relationship between UO and OHSU faculty and researchers will continue to continue to increase the demand for the ability to travel quickly and dependably between Portland and Eugene, alleviating the need to contend with I-5 traffic. Dave Reesor, UO Director of Parking and Transportation Services, joined the meeting and manages Amtrak’s access to campus for its daily bus service.

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  • New funding will help advance Oregon’s part in ShakeAlert

    First published on August 19th in Around the O, efforts to continue upgrading Oregon’s portion of the West Coast Earthquake Early Warning System will get a $1.6 million boost from new federal funding announced by the U.S. Geological Survey.

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  • UO architecture professor testifies to Congress

    On Tuesday, June 11, Kevin Van Den Wymelenberg, professor of architecture at the University of Oregon, testified at a hearing before the U.S. House Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management. The subject of the hearing was energy efficiency and resiliency in federal buildings. The hearing was conducted, in part, to evaluate the progress being made in federal building efficiency and resiliency by the General Services Administration (GSA), which implements executive regulations governing the acquisition, use, and disposal of real property owned by the federal government. Subcommittee Chairwoman Dina Titus (D-NV) led the hearing by emphasizing the importance of developing “smart and secure” buildings. “This is a chance to look at the past accomplishments, the present situation, and our future goals,” said Titus. Along with the testimony by the GSA regarding the present state of energy efficiency and resiliency in federal buildings, Van Den Wymelenberg was joined by other two panelists who testified on current innovations being made to improve building health and efficiency. Van Den Wymelenberg, director of the Institute for Health in the Built Environment, described the Institute's development of an academic-industry partnership known as Build Health. Build Health considers the intersection of energy efficiency and other factors in buildings and human health. Van Den Wymelenberg emphasized how indoor environments can negatively impact human health outcomes, and suggested that the subcommittee adopt a vision of “passive thrive-ability”. “Passive thrive-ability”, Van Den Wymelenberg said, encompasses “environments that improve human productivity and health outcomes while using less energy and approaching net-zero energy performance.” In closing, Van Den Wymelenberg suggested that the subcommittee consider setting goals that are currently implemented at the University of Oregon through a program called BTUs 4 BTU’s, or Building Tune-Ups for BTUs (energy). He explained the approach as a way to capitalize on the investments in energy efficiency, document the energy savings from strategies implemented, establish reinvestment mechanisms to implement deeper energy efficiency and human health strategies, and research the non-energy benefits of health and comfort. Van Den Wymelenberg finished his time with a comment that elicited laughs from the committee when he said that his consortium of industry collaborators, Build Health, is “founded on the principle that academics don’t know everything.” Full Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) joined the hearing and emphasized the bipartisan interest in promoting efficient resilient federal buildings. A copy of Van Den Wymelenberg’s written testimony can be found here.

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  • Bill introduced by Wyden would allow graduates with student debt to save for retirement

    May 23, 2019 04:05 pm U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, and five Senate colleagues introduced legislation on May 13th that could help many college graduates save for retirement while paying off their student loans. The Retirement Parity for Student Loans Act would permit employers to make a matching contribution to an employee’s retirement plan while that employee is paying off student loans. Current law only allows for an employer to match contributions made directly by an employee to a 401(k) retirement plan. Under the proposal, recent graduates who cannot afford to save money for retirement above their student loan repayments would no longer have to forego the employer match.           For example, if an employee’s student loan payment is $500 and his or her employer matches 50 percent of retirement plan contributions, the employer would contribute $250 to the employee’s retirement account. According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, 45% of family heads under the age of 35 have student debt, with the median amount of debt owed rising from $5,363 in 1992 to $19,000 in 2016. “Millions of college grads are buried under tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt that prevents them from building their future—buying a home, saving for retirement and starting a family,” said Sen. Wyden. “The sooner workers start to save for retirement the better, and paying down student loans shouldn’t stop them from building their nest egg.”      The Act would be a voluntary benefit that employers may elect not to offer employees and can be provided only to workers who are eligible to participate in the employer’s retirement plan. For more information on the Retirement Parity for Student Loans Act, click here.

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  • Congressman Blumenauer Introduces Bill to Study Community-Wide Influences of Autonomous Vehicles

    First published on blumenauer.house.gov on May 8thl. Congressman Earl Blumenauer (OR-03), senior member of the Ways and Means Committee, introduced the Preparing Localities for an Autonomous and Connected Environment (PLACE) Act. This legislation would create a federally funded highly automated vehicle clearinghouse to examine the secondary influences of autonomous vehicles.   “With innovations in transit, rideshare, bikeshare, and scooters, the transportation sector is changing faster than ever before. Autonomous vehicles are coming faster than most of us realize and it is incumbent upon us to start planning now,” said Congressman Blumenauer. “Done right, Autonomous vehicles can increase mobility, improve social equity, and solve some of the country’s most vexing problems. Done wrong, we may repeat the mistakes of the past. The PLACE Act will allow us to have the research at our disposal to create more livable communities for all.”   The PLACE Act creates a federally funded clearinghouse that is housed at a higher education institution, like the Urbanism Institute at the University of Oregon. These facilities would be required to collect, conduct, and fund research to help understand how autonomous vehicles can influence land use, real estate, transportation, municipal budgets, urban design, the environment, and social equity. The proposed clearinghouse is funded at $2 million annually and would be chosen by the Secretary of Transportation within 180 days of enactment.    "Congressman Blumenauer is widely recognized as a pioneer in understanding the role of place in making communities resilient and livable. His bill would establish an essential resource for communities to manage impacts from autonomous vehicles," said Michael H. Schill, University of Oregon president and professor of law. "The clearinghouse would speed the dissemination of research by programs like the Urbanism Next Center, an initiative of UO's Sustainable Cities Institute."   “The implications of autonomous vehicles touch virtually every aspect of community planning,” said American Planning Association President Kurt Christiansen, FAICP.  “Communities are working now to identify the right policies to ensure that new mobility technologies enhance and expand quality of life and livability. The access to critical information and research provided by the PLACE Act is essential to helping communities get our AV future right.”   Current legislative frameworks being debated in Congress would delineate state, local, and federal roles in regulating autonomous vehicles while also setting cybersecurity, safety, and data standards. However, little attention has been paid to the secondary influences of autonomous vehicles once they are deployed onto the roads. The proposed clearinghouse is funded at $2 million annually and would be chosen by the Secretary of Transportation within 180 days of enactment. https://blumenauer.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/congressman-blumenauer-introduces-bill-study-community-wide-influences

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  • DeFazio talks transportation with UO students and researchers

    First published in Around the O, the students in professor Marc Schlossberg’s Bicycle Transportation course had a special treat recently as their classroom was transformed for the day into the setting for a high-level policy discussion that included one of the most influential lawmakers in the land when it comes to transportation issues. The class included University of Oregon faculty members and others who looked at transportation through the lens of their own research — ranging from environmental law to psychology to computer science and civil engineering. But the students also got to ask questions of and hear from a distinguished guest who plays a major role in determining which transportation trends are likely to be implemented: U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio.  The Springfield Democrat is the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman as well as a UO alumnus. He was joined by the UO’s Heather Brinton, director or the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Center; computer science professor Stephen Fickas; psychology professor Elliot Berkman; planning, public policy and management professor Rebecca Lewis; and Oregon State University civil engineering professor David Hurwitz. The class, which coincidentally was held on Earth Day, was a chance to highlight some of the innovative, multidisciplinary approaches the university is applying to what is one of the most critical issues facing society in the coming decades And the students got a broad, behind-the-scenes look into how it all happens. The hour-plus conversation ranged from the unexpectedly fast adoption of electric scooters to how to overcome the psychological and structural barriers preventing more people from walking or bicycling to nearby destinations. It even touched on how other futuristic modes of transportation, such as driverless cars, might accelerate cities’ use of streets for more space-efficient and low-carbon modes of transportation. “We’re rethinking transportation in the 21st century,” Schlossberg, a professor in the School of Planning, Public Policy and Management, told participants, noting how all the scholars in the room should be considered transportation experts in order to advance research and its applications. After each faculty member shared how their knowledge contributes to solving transportation issues, DeFazio shared an anecdote about a recent trip to a self-driving car technology company. He saw a bunch of kids playing games around a parked car, which he learned was how the car was “learning” how to predict kids’ actions by having its sensors observe them playing. But he also gave insight into the dialogue in the halls of Congress about such technology when it comes to navigating autonomous vehicles’ liability issues. “How is this all going to work?” he asked. “It’s going to be difficult.” Much of the work at the UO actually addresses the question DeFazio asked, only it approaches it from a different perspective: Rather than asking how cars can better see people simply as objects to avoid, many researchers at the UO are asking how cities can actually be redesigned to prioritize people on foot, bike or scooter in the first place. Schlossberg said the UO is uniquely positioned to be at the forefront of such issues because no other university can lay claim to the same range of faculty members applying their research to transportation, which includes planning, public administration, architecture, computer science, law, landscape architecture, business, journalism and other disciplines.  Schlossberg also noted how it was DeFazio’s work more than a decade ago that set in motion this diversity of faculty members all focusing on transportation issues — including the actual course DeFazio was now taking part in — starting with the creation of the Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium in 2005. That sparked a chain reaction leading to the Sustainable Cities Institutein 2009, the UO Urbanism Next Center in 2017 and the Applied Transportation Studies focus area earlier this year. “We’re at a time when decisions about how we design transportation systems are either going to be part of the problem or part of the solution, and I really believe Oregon has a particular expertise and a real commitment to help communities meet their needs in this critical area,” said Brinton, of the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Center. Students asked about issues relating to privacy concerns and climate change, and educating the public in order to overcome them.  “We’re sitting in one of the world’s premier colleges of education, and if anybody can do that, we can,” said Berkman, the psychologist. “And Oregon is a great state for this laboratory model.” “One thing that’s exciting to me is a year ago people weren’t even talking about scooters as form of transportation,” added Hurwitz from OSU. “Here’s a mode of transportation that didn’t exist a year ago and now they represent tens of millions of trips in the U.S., revealing a massive preference for a new way to travel for trips under two miles. Our challenge is to help cities understand how to capitalize on the opportunities and challenges scooters present in terms of street design, policy, equity and safety.” DeFazio, who helped create the national Safe Routes to School program, said he was encouraged that the work at the UO also places a focus on how these new forms of transportation can potentially help more kids get to school and elsewhere in their community independently and safely. In all, Schlossberg said the open discussion among the scholars and the congressman was a rousing success. It gave students the chance to contribute to a wide-ranging discussion among experts spanning multiple disciplines they ordinarily wouldn’t have access to in a classroom setting. In addition, it gave Schlossberg the chance to show DeFazio the long-range effect of legislation he backed more than a decade ago. The gathering also illustrated how well the UO is positioned to help communities across the United States be better able to meet the transportation challenges of the 21st century. “I thought it was a tremendous experience for the students to be able to listen to candid talks and sometimes differing opinions from these scholars and Congressman DeFazio,” he said. “These are important issues that students are tackling as part of applied projects in this class, ones that will definitely be part of their professional work once they leave campus. This was a beneficial and fun way to involve them now.” —By Jim Murez, University Communications   https://around.uoregon.edu/content/rep-defazio-talks-transportation-uo-students-and-researchers/?utm_source=UOnews

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  • Congress is working on the FY20 budget but many obstacles remain

    The process for developing the federal budget for FY20 is in full swing. The Trump Administration submitted its request to Congress last month which included deep cuts to key programs. Members of Congress are circulating “Dear Colleague” letters in support of their funding priorities. A plethora of interests from across all sectors are engaged in fly-ins and advocacy days, typical for this time of year. But the biggest hurdle to an orderly budget process remains. Congress must agree to raise the budget expenditure caps mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011 to avoid across-the-board cuts, also known as sequestration. A coalition of interests is asking Congress to develop a two-year agreement to raise the caps for FY20 and FY21 and allow for additional resources for discretionary spending. On Tuesday April 9, House Democrats abandoned a floor vote on H.R. 2021, the “Investing for the People Act of 2019,” after progressive Democrats opposed the defense spending figure. The measure would have raised non-defense discretionary spending to $631 billion for FY20, a 5.7 percent increase above FY19, and defense spending to $664 billion for FY20, a 2.6 percent increase over FY19.  The House did pass a resolution establishing an overall limit of $1.3 trillion for defense and non-defense funding, which is nearly the same level as FY19. This opens the door for the House Appropriations Committee to continue crafting FY20 spending bills and begin marking up measures in the weeks ahead.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said he and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) intend to launch budget negotiations at the staff level. They reportedly intend to negotiate a two-year deal to raise the caps and avoid $126 billion in automatic budget cuts. The administration has stated that they do not support raising the budget caps, but according to the Washington Post McConnell has said Pelosi and President Trump “both support trying to reach an agreement on a new spending pact for both the Pentagon and domestic programs.” Source: AAU and APLU reports  

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  • Dear Colleague round-up: Oregon delegation supports research budgets

    First published on the UO government and community relations website, members of the Oregon delegation routinely support funding for student aid and federal research agencies. Evidence of that support comes in the form of “Dear Colleague” letters, one of many tools used by members of Congress to advance budget and policy priorities. Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and US Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) are again leading advocacy for funding for the Institute of Education Science, a top priority for University of Oregon advocacy given activity by College of Education faculty with this program. Congresswoman Bonamici’s Dear Colleague letter included 40 members of the US House as signers. She and her colleagues called for an appropriation of $670 million for the agency, restoring it to pre-sequestration levels. ShakeAlert, the earthquake early warning system, is a priority for west coast policymakers and stakeholders across all levels of government and sectors of the economy. Members of the Oregon delegation have joined with colleagues to again support funding by the U.S. Geological Survey for ShakeAlert. Earlier this week, UO faculty joined with their counterparts from the University of Washington, UC-Berkeley, and Caltech in a fly-in to share updates about the implementation of ShakeAlert. In March, university staff worked with House Education and Labor Chairman Bobby Scott and Congressman Peter DeFazio to request continued funding for the National Center for Campus Public Safety through the Bureau of Justice Assistance. Largely at the behest of members of the coalition Disaster Resilient Universities, 27 members of Congress joined Reps. Scott and DeFazio to support continuing the center as a clearinghouse and resource for risk managers and other university personnel concerned about continuity of campus operations. The university coordinates its advocacy for student aid and research with the Association of American Universities and the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities. Top advocacy priorities include federal student aid programs, the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, Title VI international programs, and the National Endowment for the Humanities as well as other specialized priorities.  

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  • Cutting-edge device gives the UO a leg up in technology race

    First published in Around the O on April 24th 2019. A new multi-million-dollar research tool that will let UO scientists and students jump ahead of the technology curve is now being installed in a campus lab. The plasma focused ion beam instrument, known as the Thermo Scientific Helios Hydra DualBeam, is only the fourth instrument of its kind in the world and the first to be housed at a university or service center in North America. It is similar to a scanning electron microscope but also uses beams of ions rather than electrons to image, etch and analyze materials at nanometer scales. The acquisition was made possible through a new strategic collaboration with Thermo Fisher Scientific. The relationship promises to further position the UO as a key research and testing site, both for UO researchers and industrial clients who will lease time on the instrument. “It’s a real win-win-win that will greatly benefit the university, our faculty doing cutting-edge research and our students training for high-tech careers using the world’s most advanced tools and technologies available,” said David Conover, vice president for research and innovation. “We are thrilled to be partnering with Thermo Fisher Scientific to ensure that our research facilities stay ahead of the technology curve.” As part of the collaboration with Thermo Fisher, the UO will pilot a new instrument acquisition model that could help keep its research facilities at the forefront of science for years to come. The UO will work with Thermo Fisher’s Material Science division to ensure the Helios Hydra DualBeam stays cutting-edge throughout its time on campus. As new product features are developed, they will be added to the instrument. In turn, UO researchers will provide early feedback on featured applications to help shape future capabilities and functions for use within academic and industry labs. Even as workers were still unpacking 7-foot-tall wooden crates that housed the instrument during shipping and using a heavy-duty ceiling crane to lower pieces of the tool down a flight of stairs to the Center for Advanced Materials Characterization in Oregon, where the Helios Hydra will be located, Kurt Langworthy, director of the center, had already received inquiries from UO researchers and industrial clients interested in renting time on the machine. The instrument should be operational by the end of the month. “This will strengthen our position as a top-tier research facility, enabling internal researchers and external partners to investigate materials at scales that are more than 10 times our current limit,” Langworthy said. “Once word gets out that we have this instrument, we will be pretty busy.” The Helios Hydra will offer new efficiencies for materials science researchers seeking to discover and design new materials and analyze their properties and structure. But it will also serve other kinds of researchers, including biologists who could use the tool for so-called “connectomics” projects that involve mapping neural connections in the brain. The advanced materials center, one of the UO’s core research facilities, offers high-tech services to researchers, companies and universities. The collaboration builds on a long history and growing relationship between the UO and Thermo Fisher Scientific, which includes research collaborations, instrument acquisitions, in-kind gifts and opportunities for students. “DualBeam technology is widely used for sample preparation and 3D materials characterization, and the collaboration with the University of Oregon focuses on bringing this technology to a new level of performance,” said Trisha Rice, vice president and general manager, materials science, at Thermo Fisher. “In addition to finding the best ion beam match for a variety of samples and materials, it could lead to the ability to characterize previously difficult samples, such as those that contain carbon,” she said. “In addition, we plan to gain new insights and create best practices to optimize sample throughput and quality in the various DualBeam applications, helping researchers publish potentially groundbreaking results.” The strategic collaboration with Thermo Fisher and addition of the Helios Hydra will also benefit UO students training for high-tech careers in programs like the advanced materials analysis and characterization master’s degree program, a chemistry program facilitated through the center’s labs, and the Master’s Industrial Internship Program, housed in the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact. Thermo Fisher has been a prominent partner in the internship program for nearly 20 years, with 89 students starting their careers at the company. In 2017, Thermo Fisher provided funding to the internship program in support of its diversity and inclusion efforts. The master’s program trains students for careers in industry and government labs. It couples industry relevant hands-on coursework with nine-month paid internships in industry, giving students practical experience to springboard their careers. “Many of our students intern with Thermo Fisher Scientific and go on to have careers there,” said Stacey York, director of the Master’s Industrial Internship Program. “Some even return to the UO to earn doctorates, bringing their learning and experience from internships back to the university.” Ultimately, Langworthy said, the new partnership will streamline ways to align UO research and industry with the resources offered by Thermo Fisher’s business network. As the new collaboration progresses, the UO will look for more opportunities for large-scale collaborations with Thermo Fisher. “There is a lot of potential for ongoing partnerships, new discoveries and new ways to attract outside investment for research and sponsorships,” Langworthy said. “We are excited to see what the future holds.”   https://around.uoregon.edu/content/cutting-edge-device-gives-uo-leg-technology-race

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