Government Relations

Government Relations Legislative Update

Government Relations Legislative Update

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

Friday, May 20, 2011

Federal Update for Friday, May 20, 2011

As part of an effort to identify duplicative, obsolete, and burdensome regulations in higher education, the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance is asking campus senior executives and program administrators to participate in a short survey on regulatory burden.  

The goal of the survey, which was developed with advice from the higher education community, is to collect information on the regulatory burden related to the Higher Education Act.  Campuses are encouraged to participate in the survey in order to demonstrate to Congress and the Department of Education the strength of support for reform and to provide specific recommendations for streamlining and eliminating burdensome regulations.    

The survey—which is web-based, confidential, and anonymous—can be accessed at this location:

The survey is in two forms:  a survey of 12 questions for campus senior executives, and a somewhat longer survey for campus program administrators.  The senior executive survey is estimated to take 15 minutes to complete; the survey for administrators is estimated to take 25 minutes.  
Campus officials are asked to complete and submit the survey by Monday, June 6.  The Advisory Committee recognizes that the time frame for responding is short, but says it is necessary in order for the panel to stay on schedule and make its final report to Congress by the end of the year.

The Department of Education released its FY11 funding plan on May 16, responding to provisions in the FY11 continuing resolution, enacted on April 15. Although the Department's budget was increased by $4.2 billion overall, discretionary spending for higher education was reduced by $352 million, or 16 percent, from the FY10 level.  Within higher education, funding for the Title VI International Education and Fulbright-Hays programs was cut by $50.2 million, or 40 percent, and support for the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) was cut by $121.6 million, or 87 percent.  The FIPSE reductions included elimination of earmarks and the cancellation of new program competitions for 2011.  Department staff report that campuses should be able to view their revised allocations for campus-based student aid through the eCampus-Based site. 

Ben S. Bernanke, chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, delivered a wide-ranging speech on the government role in promoting research and development (R&D) in Washington, D.C. on May 16.  As part of a session on the role of innovation in long-term economic growth, the Fed chairman reviewed many examples of how the federal investment in research has enabled the emergence of new technologies in such areas as agriculture, chemicals, health care, and information technology.  

"The economic arguments for government support of innovation generally imply that governments should focus particularly on fostering basic, or foundational, research," he said.  Outside of large-scale projects like the space program or atom-smashing facilities, he added, "a more decentralized model that relies on the ideas and initiative of individual researchers or small research groups may be most effective."  The challenge for policymakers, he said, is to "encourage experimentation and a greater diversity of approaches while simultaneously ensuring that an effective peer-review process is in place to guide funding toward high-quality science."  He added that government support for innovation and R&D is likely to be more effective if it is thought of as a "long-run" investment and that "governments that choose to provide support for R&D are likely to get better results if that support is stable, avoiding a pattern of feast or famine."  

Regarding the scientific and engineering workforce, the chairman said the stable trend in U.S. science and engineering degrees suggests more needs to be done to increase the number of U.S. students studying in these disciplines.  And since ensuring a sufficient supply of individuals with science and engineering skills is important to promoting innovation, questions also should be raised about U.S. immigration policy.  

The House Small Business Committee approved  legislation (H.R. 1425) to reauthorize the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs (SBIR/STTR) on May 11.  The bill is likely to go to the House floor in the next few weeks.  During the markup, the panel modified an amendment authored by Rep. Daniel Lipinksi (D-IL) and approved during the bill's consideration by the House Science and Technology Committee.  The amendment would create a pilot program at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to fund proof-of-concept institutional awards out of existing STTR funds.  The Small Business Committee modified the language of the amendment to allow, rather than require, NIH to create a pilot program.  

Unlike the Senate version of the bill (S. 493), the House legislation does not increase the set aside for SBIR/STTR programs.  The Senate bill failed to achieve cloture after five weeks of debate on the Senate floor largely over unrelated issues, and it is unlikely to be revived in the near future.  The program authorizations are set to expire on May 31, 2011, so Congress will likely pass another short-term extension.  Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA), chair of the Senate Small Business Committee and lead sponsor of the Senate bill, has introduced a bill to extend the programs for one year.

The Council on Undergraduate Research has invited the UW System to participate in its National Science Foundation-funded Workshop Program on Institutionalizing Undergraduate Research for State Systems and Consortia.  Submissions were selected by the program review committee based on the System's/Consortium's perceived need and readiness for participation in the program as demonstrated by advancement of undergraduate research efforts on the campuses, and the commitment to system/consortium level change.  The process was highly competitive, with a large number of submissions.  The Workshop will be held on September 23-25 on the UW-Eau Claire campus.  

American Science and Technology in Wausau hosted U.S. Senator Herb Kohl and representatives from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and the University of Wisconsin-Superior on April 20.  AST is a partner in biofuels research with both universities.  Researchers and administration officials briefed the Senator on their respective projects and the potential for economic gains for Wisconsin.  The research aims to develop new technology that will create additional, value-added uses for Wisconsin's farm and forest products.  A long-time friend of agriculture, Kohl is chairman of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee.  He has been strongly supportive of the biofuels efforts and the Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology, headquartered on the UW-Stevens Point campus.  The Institute receives major funding from the U.S. Department of Defense to develop technology to help the military ease its dependence on fossil fuels, with implications for civilian use.

Regent President Pruitt and UW System President Reilly visited with members of the Wisconsin Congressional delegation on May 10-11.  The purpose of the visit was to draw attention to the inordinate impact that cuts to student financial aid and scientific research would have on UW System campuses and students.  They asked the delegation to support the Pell Grant program, which impacts nearly 40,000 UW System students and is the foundation for college affordability for low-income students.  Cutting Pell Grants to 2008-09 levels would result in fewer needy students being able to afford college at a time when investment in our nation's workforce is key to growing the nation's economy.  President Obama's FY12 budget request would freeze the maximum Pell Grant at $5,550 in 2011-12, while the budget bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives would roll the maximum back to 2008-09 levels -- a reduction which could not come at a worse time -- for students, families, and the economy.

Also discussed was concerns expressed by the Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, the Wisconsin Technical College System and the UW System regarding proposed administrative rules by the U.S. Department of Education that would establish a federal definition of "credit hour," expand state authorization requirements, and establish a complaint process under which states can receive, review and respond to complaints regarding postsecondary education.  

Further, the UW System's "Wisconsin Idea Partnership" proposal was shared with the delegation and staff.  The WIP would provide flexibilities for all 26 UW campuses and UW-Extension and preserve a unified UW System that includes UW-Madison, an alternative to the Governor's proposal which would create a new UW-Madison public authority and grant flexibilities only for UW-Madison.

Presidents Pruitt and Reilly thanked the delegation for their strong support seeking a favorable interpretation from the federal Department of Veterans Affairs about the relationship between the federal Post-9/11 GI Bill and the WI Gi Bill.  

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