Government Relations

Government Relations Legislative Update

Government Relations Legislative Update

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

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Federal Update for May 31, 2011

The U.S. House returned to session today, Tuesday, May 31, with plans for votes to include S. 1082, the Small Business Additional Temporary Extension Act of 2011 (SBIR/STTR programs), and H.R. 1954, a symbolic, "clean" bill to increase the statutory limit on the public debt by $2.4 trillion.  On Wednesday, the House will begin debate under an open rule of the FY2012 Homeland Security Appropriations bill.  After the FY2012 Homeland Security appropriations bill, the House plans to take up consideration of the FY2012 Military Construction-VA bill.  

The Senate will effectively be in recess next week, although the chamber will remain in pro forma session, with no votes, to prevent the President from making any recess appointments.  When the Senate resumes work on Monday, June 6, it will consider the nomination of Donald Verrilli, Jr. as Solicitor General.  

A group of 105 Democratic Representatives sent a letter to leaders of the House Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee on May 19 urging them to maintain the Pell Grant maximum award at the current level of $5,550.  Wisconsin Congresswoman Baldwin, Congressman Kind and Congresswoman Moore all signed the letter.  UW System sent a letter  to Wisconsin's delegation seeking support for maintaining the Pell Grant maximum award.

The letter, initiated by Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), describes Pell Grants as "the cornerstone of our nation's student aid program, currently enabling more than nine million students to get the higher education and job training they and our nation need."  The Member letter notes that with 80 percent of the fastest growing jobs in the country demanding training above the high school level, the nation needs more students graduating with college degrees to remain competitive.  "Pell Grants are essential to America's future."

Under the leadership of Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), 24 House Democrats sent a letter to appropriations leaders on May 18 asking them to provide $126 million for Title VI International Education and Foreign Language programs in FY12, the same as their funding in FY10.  The budget for the programs was cut by $50 million, or 40 percent, in the final FY11 continuing resolution.  Wisconsin Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin signed the letter.  UW System also sent a letter to the Wisconsin delegation seeking support for Title VI International Education and Foreign Language program in Fiscal Year 2012.

"The various programs funded under this account serve to strengthen the nation's educational infrastructure in areas where the need grows greater by the day," said the letter.  "Strong academic programs in critical foreign languages and intensive training in multi-disciplinary regional studies, including socio-economic, cultural, security, and religious aspects among others, are vital to national security."  

Congress gave final approval to a four-month extension of the Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs, preventing their authorizations from expiring on May 31.  The small business authorizations were paired with an extension of three Patriot Act provisions which were set to also expire.  The Senate vote on the package was 72 to 23; the House vote was 250 to 153.  President Obama has already signed the measure.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has reinstated its previous policy on teaching and related activities of NSF graduate research fellows while the agency reviews this and other policies in the Graduate Research Fellowship program.  Earlier, the Foundation had modified its policy to stipulate that research fellows could not conduct teaching activities during their three- year fellowships.  NSF reversed the policy in response to concerns raised by the academic and scientific communities.

The reinstated policy allows graduate research fellows to participate in teaching and similar activities that are in furtherance of their own educational objectives.  The policy that will be in effect during the 2011-2012 fellowship year is an updated version of the one described in the 2009 Guide (NSF 09-62), which is as follows:

"Each Fellow is expected to devote full time to advanced scientific study or work during tenure. However, because it is generally accepted that teaching or similar activity constitutes a valuable part of the education and training of many graduate students, a Fellow may undertake a reasonable amount of such activities, without NSF approval. It is expected that furtherance of the Fellow's educational objectives and the gain of substantive teaching or other experience, not service to the institution as such, will govern these activities. Compensation for such activities is permitted based on the affiliated institution's policies and the general employment policies outlined in this document."

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program Office released a letter explaining the change in policy, as well as a Frequently Asked Questions document.  Additional information, including the updated 2011 policy guide, is available on the NSF website.

This afternoon, President Obama is expected to nominate John Bryson, the former chairman and CEO of Edison International, a California utility company, as the next Secretary of Commerce. The outgoing Commerce Secretary Gary Locke was named US ambassador to China.

In January of this year, the President called for a government-wide review of agency regulations. As a result of that review, last week, it was announced by the Office of Management and Budget that more than two dozen agencies identified initiatives to reduce regulatory burdens. Of note, the HHS plan calls for NIH to review its regulations on scientific peer review and development contract grants. Within the Education plan, it states the Department will review rules and regulations governing campus-based Federal Student Aid programs and post-secondary international education programs. All of the plans by Department/Agency are available at: The plans are open for comment and feedback by the public.

The U.S. Department of Education has posted budget tables showing program funding levels for the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year, through September 30.  FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE GO TO  (Note: A comparison table showing the change between FY 2010 and FY 2011 is available at, and state allocations by program and state are posted at

(AAU, the U.S. Department of Education, and the UW System Office of Federal Relations contributed to this report.)