Government Relations

Government Relations Legislative Update

Government Relations Legislative Update

Updates on state and federal issues relating to the UW System.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Federal Update for March 14

The U.S. Senate Small Business Committee approved S. 493, a bill to reauthorize the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs, by a vote of 18-1.  Congress has been trying to reauthorize these programs since 2008.
The legislation was introduced by Small Business Committee Chair Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Ranking Member Olympia Snowe (R-ME).  It is virtually identical to the bill approved by the Senate in the final days of the 111th Congress, but which the House did not consider.  S. 493 would increase the set-asides for small business research at federal agencies with extramural research and development budgets that exceed $100 million:  the set-aside for SBIR would increase from 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent over 10 years; for STTR, the numbers would increase from 0.3 percent to 0.6 percent over six years.  The bill also would allow entities that are majority owned by venture capital firms to apply for SBIR grants, and would increase the size of the awards.
The UW System supports reauthorizing the SBIR and STTR.  During the period, federal FY1983-FY2009, over 210 Wisconsin SBEs have been competitively awarded approximately $250 million.  Primary recipients of these funds have been high-tech start-ups.  These firms have been the key "seed" to the rapid growth of the state's high-tech clusters in biotechnology, biomedical, physical sciences and software.  Senate action on the bill is expected early this week.  
The House Small Business Committee, which in the past has not favored an increase in the set-asides, plans to hold a hearing on SBIR/STTR reauthorization on March 16.
Further, in response to some of the concerns expressed by many in higher education community, including the UW System, the House Education Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce held a hearing this morning on regulations regarding the definition of credit hour and state authorization, which were issued by the Department of Education (ED) last October as part of a larger regulatory package.

Three of the four witnesses—John Ebersole, President of Excelsior College; Blair Dowden, President of Huntington University; and Ralph Wolff, President of the Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and University of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges—raised serious objections to and concerns about the regulations, which are scheduled to become effective July 1.  In addition to the philosophical issues with the Department's efforts, they all raised operational problems that would be created by the regulations.

The fourth witness, Kathleen Tighe, the Inspector General for the Department, focused most of her remarks on the credit hour issue and defended ED's regulation.
Copies of their written testimony are available on the committee website

Before the hearing, a group of more than 70 organizations sent a joint letter to Subcommittee Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) asking that the regulations be delayed for a year to allow for at least the implementation concerns to be resolved.  

(APLU and the UW System Office of Federal Relations contributed to this report.)