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NASA finally admits it doesn’t have the funding to land humans...

"I can't put a date on humans on Mars," chief of human spaceflight says.

Two defenses of research on useless knowledge

A small book of essays promoting fundamental research.

Government funding’s impact three times larger than we thought

Traditional metrics for patent impact of NIH grants misses their full contribution.

Congress will consider proposal to raise H-1B minimum wage to $100,000

Enlarge / Rep.

Darrell Issa, R-Calif., is one of two sponsors on an H-1B reform bill. He's pictured here at a House Republican Conference meeting in 2015.Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via Getty reader comments 236 Share this story President-elect Donald Trump is just a week away from taking office.

From the start of his campaign, he has promised big changes to the US immigration system.

For both Trump's advisers and members of Congress, the H-1B visa program, which allows many foreign workers to fill technology jobs, is a particular focus. One major change to that system is already under discussion: making it harder for companies to use H-1B workers to replace Americans by simply giving the foreign workers a raise.

The "Protect and Grow American Jobs Act," introduced last week by Rep.

Darrell Issa, R-Calif. and Scott Peters, D-Calif., would significantly raise the wages of workers who get H-1B visas.
If the bill becomes law, the minimum wage paid to H-1B workers would rise to at least $100,000 annually, and be adjusted it for inflation. Right now, the minimum is $60,000. The sponsors say that would go a long way toward fixing some of the abuses of the H-1B program, which critics say is currently used to simply replace American workers with cheaper, foreign workers.
In 2013, the top nine companies acquiring H-1B visas were technology outsourcing firms, according to an analysis by a critic of the H-1B program. (The 10th is Microsoft.) The thinking goes that if minimum H-1B salaries are brought closer to what high-skilled tech employment really pays, the economic incentive to use it as a worker-replacement program will drop off. The H-1B program isn't supposed to replace any US workers at all. Rather, it's meant to help US companies get skilled labor they can't hire domestically.

But critics of the program say abuse has been widespread and point to examples of high-profile mass layoffs in which American IT workers were sometimes ordered to train their foreign replacements. Last year, the Los Angeles Times reported that Southern California Edison had laid off hundreds of IT workers and filled their positions with workers from two Indian outsourcing firms, Tata Consulting and Infosys. Disney was also accused of replacing American IT workers with H-1B workers from India; two of the Disney IT workers filed a lawsuit against their former employer last year. "We need to ensure we can retain the world’s best and brightest talent," said Issa in a statement about the bill. "At the same time, we also need to make sure programs are not abused to allow companies to outsource and hire cheap foreign labor from abroad to replace American workers." The H-1B program offers 65,000 visas each fiscal year, with an additional 20,000 reserved for foreign workers who have advanced degrees from US colleges and universities.

The visas are awarded by lottery each year. Last year, the government received more than 236,000 applications for those visas. End to arbitrage The case that H-1B has been used as a cost-cutting program was made directly to Congress by Prof. Ronil Hira of Howard University, who testified about the Southern California Edison layoffs. Hira submitted testimony (PDF) claiming that SCE IT specialists and engineers get paid an average wage of $110,466, while H-1B workers at Infosys and Tata get average annual wages of $70,882 and $65,565, respectively. Hira suggested raising the wages of H-1B workers to "clean up some of the most flagrant abuses." He also suggested increased enforcement by the Secretary of Labor and random audits of H-1B employers, added safeguards which haven't yet seen a champion in Congress. Harj Taggar, founder of tech recruiting firm TripleByte, told Ars in an interview that outsourcing firms' dominance of the system has discouraged his clients, typically small to mid-sized startups, from participating in the visa lottery. That could change, though, if minimum wages for H-1B visas are raised. Outsourcing firms might find it more difficult to profit from the difference between the market wage and what their workers are typically paid, leaving more visas for others. "You'll start seeing Bay Area technology companies say, if the chances [of getting a visa through the lottery] have gone from 5 percent to 30 percent now that there's less competition, you'll see more engage in the program," said Taggar. "If you raise the minimum wage requirement to $100,000, that will still fall below the average that engineers in particular, in particular those who have been working for a few years, will command in salary." Reuters reported yesterday that one senior Trump adviser is considering a more radical change to the H-1B system: doing away with the visa lottery altogether and just selling visas to the highest bidder.

The news service reported that Trump seemed open to changing the H-1B system at a meeting last month with top tech CEOs, but he was "searching for a middle ground." At the end of the day, the president-elect is "not hostile" to the H-1B program, according to one source, but may choose to raise the cost of getting the visas.

Nuclear waste accident 2 years ago may cost more than $2...

According to the Department of Energy, this is an exploded waste drum in the dump. "Damage can be seen to the slip sheet on top of the waste container and there are remnants of a magnesium oxide bag also visible."Department of Energy reader comments 12 Share this story The Los Angeles Times is estimating that an explosion that occurred at a New Mexico nuclear waste dumping facility in 2014 could cost upwards of $2 billion to clean up. Construction began on the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico's Carlsbad desert in the 1980s (PDF).

The site was built to handle transuranic waste from the US' nuclear weapons program.

The WIPP had been eyed to receive nuclear waste from commercial, power-generating plants as well. According to the LA Times, the 2014 explosion at the WIPP was downplayed by the federal government, with the Department of Energy (DoE) putting out statements indicating that cleanup was progressing quickly.
Indeed, a 2015 Recovery Plan insisted that "limited waste disposal operations" would resume in the first quarter of 2016.
Instead, two years have passed since the incident without any indication that smaller nuclear waste cleanup programs around the US will be able to deliver their waste to the New Mexico facility any time soon. Ars contacted the DoE for comment and has not received a response. We will update this article if we hear back. The 2014 explosion apparently occurred when engineers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory were preparing a drum of plutonium and americium waste—usually packed with kitty litter (yes, kitty litter)—and decided to "substitute an organic material for a mineral one." "The new material caused a complex chemical reaction that blew the lid off a drum, sending mounds of white, radioactive foam into the air and contaminating 35 percent of the underground area," the LA Times wrote.

The dump's filtration system, which was supposed to "prevent any radioactive releases," subsequently failed. No workers were in the shafts of the dump at the time. Workers on the surface were only exposed to low doses of radiation due to the HEPA filters in the ventilation system. Still, the dump site was set to receive another 277,000 drums of radioactive waste from around the country.

The congestion is now creating a costly problem. The federal government renewed its contract with dump operator Nuclear Waste Partnership to the tune of $640 million extra for cleanup.

That number could grow, especially as federal officials now say the contaminated ventilation system on the dump needs to be replaced—a project that will not be completed until 2021. Until then, the dump must remain open, but it can not accept nuclear waste at the rate it had planned.

The dump costs $500 million a year to remain open, the LA Times reported. Meanwhile, feds also have to pay to house the nuclear waste being stored at sites around the US (in Washington state and Idaho, for example) that's supposed to be on its way to the WIPP. While there may be cheaper solutions to the problem, the Department of Energy is under pressure to fix the New Mexico dump to make good on a US agreement with Russia to fulfill mutual reductions of plutonium. WIPP is currently the primary destination for weapons-grade nuclear waste.
If it closes, a likely expensive and time-consuming disposal alternative would have to be proposed. Edwin Lyman, a physicist and nuclear expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told the LA Times that, "The decision means operations at the dump must resume.

They have no choice." That means that WIPP cleanup, including indefinite housing costs for nuclear waste around the country that was to be shipped to WIPP, could rank among the costliest nuclear waste cleanup efforts in US history, on par with clean up after Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island disaster in 1979.

Cleanup after that incident cost the federal government about $1 billion, or $1.7 billion adjusted for inflation.

IT Company Research Competition Boosts Bug Bounty Inflation

Apple offers $200,000 for serious software security flaws.

Then an independent broker offers a cool $500,000.
Is this a sign of a short-lived bubble or will the value of exploits continue to climb? At the Black Hat 2016 security conference in early August, Apple offered select researchers up to $200,000, to find previously unknown ways to compromise the company's iOS operating system or iCloud service.Less than a week later, third-party security firm Exodus Intelligence upped the ante, offering $500,000 for remote exploitation on iOS—10 times more than Apple offered for the same level of compromise.The competing offers for information on exploitable vulnerabilities highlight the evolving battle between software vendors, who increasingly want to bolster the security of their products by tapping researchers, and third-party firms who seek to make money from exclusive vulnerability information.As software companies become more at ease with paying researchers for vulnerabilities and third parties see more opportunity in buying exploits, the market for security researchers' efforts has grown, Brian Gorenc, senior vulnerability researcher for Trend Micro's Zero Day Initiative, told eWEEK. ZDI's program, for example, has grown steadily this year, receiving the most submissions by researchers to date, he said. "Right now, it is a really good time to be a vulnerability researcher," Gorenc said. The environment is a marked departure from even four years ago, when executives at companies such as Microsoft and Apple refused to pay security researchers who found vulnerabilities, and relied instead on altruism and the desire to promote a personal brand to convince researchers to disclose vulnerabilities for free."I think bug bounty programs are awesome and they have come a long way from where they were initially," Adriel Desautels, managing partner and CEO at penetration firm Netragard, told eWEEK. "When they started, the bounties were almost insults.

They were $500 and $3,000. Now, they are much more competitive with what other agencies and brokers are willing to pay."Yet the acquisition of exploitable vulnerabilities by third parties has resulted in significant damage to software firms' customers. When Apple refused earlier this year to help the FBI circumvent the security of the iPhone, an Israeli company reportedly sold the agency the equivalent of a skeleton key to iOS, giving the federal government the ability to decrypt a backlog of digital evidence.Following the incident, and perhaps driven by it, Apple announced its first bug bounty at the Black Hat Security Briefings on Aug. 4. With a $200,000 headline-generating bug bounty, Apple's program appears to be a strong statement that the company is jumping into the paid research market with both proverbial feet. However, the top payout is only for a very small—and at the same time, very hard to exploit—piece of the iOS software, the secure boot firmware.

The more general remote execution vulnerabilities, the focus of most attackers, will bring a much smaller sum of $50,000.Yet the program is a good start, Rich Mogull, principal analyst and CEO at security consultancy Securosis, said in a blog post."Apple didn’t need a program, but can certainly benefit from one," he said. "This won’t motivate the masses or those with ulterior motives, but it will reward researchers interested in putting in the extremely difficult work to discover" some of the most dangerous classes of exploitable vulnerabilities.