Government Relations

Government Relations Legislative Update

Government Relations Legislative Update

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

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Federal Update for October 18, 2011

Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies
The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies has released their draft of FY2012 Appropriations bill and summary table.  The National Endowment for the Humanities is provided $155 million by the Senate subcommittee, the same as current FY11 levels and higher than both the President's request and House provided levels. The USGS Water Resources Research Institutes and Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units are provided $6.5 million and $18.8 million respectively in the Senate draft.

House Sustainable Energy & Environment Coalition
The House Sustainable Energy & Environment Coalition (SEEC) sent a letter last Friday to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction urging the panel to support domestic clean energy innovation and production as a way to create jobs and grow the American economy.

Senate and House Floor Activities
The Senate reconvened Monday, October 17, to begin consideration of the FY2012 minibus spending package, HR 2112, that is comprised of FY2012 Agriculture spending bill (H.R. 2112), as well as the Transportation-Housing (S. 1596), and the Commerce-Justice Science, (H.R. 2596), which includes funding for the National Science Foundation and NASA, spending bills.  These three measures were reported from the Senate Appropriations Committee with strong bipartisan support.  Amendments will be allowed that do not change the top-line allocation.  Action is expected by the end of the week.  

CQ Today reports that House Republican leaders are "somewhat reluctantly signing on to the bipartisan Senate strategy" of trying to move several minibus appropriations packages over the next few months rather than trying to negotiate one omnibus bill that incorporates all or most of the FY12 funding bills.  Like their Senate counterparts, they have concluded that "assembling three or four packages combining contentious bills with politically popular ones" will be a smoother process than spending weeks in behind-the-scenes negotiations on a single omnibus package, writes the publication.

The Senate so far has approved the FY12 Military Construction-Veterans appropriations bill.  The Appropriations Committee has reported out 11 of its FY12 bills, with only the Interior and Related Agencies bill still to be considered.  The House has approved six FY12 funding bills.

The House is on a scheduled recess week and returns Monday, October 24.

The Budget Control Act of 2011:  Effects on Spending Levels and the Budget Deficit
The Congressional Research Service (CRS) has published a new report, "The Budget Control Act of 2011: Effects on Spending Levels and the Budget Deficit." As described in the document, "This report focuses on how the BCA will affect spending and the budget deficit through the 'first round' effects, related to discretionary spending caps and student loan provisions, and the 'second round' effects of additional deficit reduction, related to the work of the Joint Committee. The report also examines short and long run effects of deficit reduction on the economy. The Appendix compares the BCA to past deficit-reduction legislation."
Additional analysis of the BCA is available in two documents from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO):  a report on the effects of the budget sequestration that will be imposed if Congress is unable to approve a 10-year deficit-reduction package of at least $1.2 trillion, and the testimony of CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf before the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction on confronting the nation's fiscal policy challenges.  (Contact the UW System Office of Federal Relations for a copy of the CRS report.) 

House Subcommittee Seeks IRS Information on Tax-Exempt Organizations
The chairman of the House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee sent a letter to IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman on October 6 asking a series of questions about tax-exempt organizations.  He also issued a press release describing the request.   In the letter, subcommittee Chairman Charles Boustany (R-LA) requested answers by October 20 in five areas: 1) overview of the tax-exempt sector; 2) compliance; 3) unrelated business income (UBIT); 4) audits; and 5) current tax-exempt enforcement initiatives.  Under the section on current tax-exempt enforcement initiatives, the letter includes questions about the ongoing IRS college and universities compliance project and the timing of the final report.  The section also includes questions related to the community benefit requirement affecting nonprofit hospitals.

President's Job Council Includes Technology Transfer Provision in Recommendations
The President's Council on Jobs and Competition has released an interim report that includes a technology transfer provision championed by the Kauffman Foundation that would allow university faculty to use technology transfer offices outside of their home institutions to commercialize their discoveries.  AAU (and other organizations) oppose such a provision because they believe it is unworkable and would undermine, not improve, the effectiveness of university technology transfer offices.  The language on page 22 of the interim report says:  "Commercialization: Allow university faculty to shop discoveries to any technology transfer office.  America's colleges and universities, funded with federal dollars, have produced many of the great breakthroughs in clean energy, information technology, biotechnology and nanotechnology that have led to new industries and jobs across the country. However, all too often potentially groundbreaking research that could find market success lingers in university labs. The Council recommends allowing research that is funded with federal dollars to be presented to any university technology transfer office (not just the ones in which the research has taken place)…"   The Council is a group of corporate CEOs and others that was created by the White House to provide nonpartisan advice to the President on ways to strengthen the economy and ensure national competitiveness.

Office of Science and Technology Policy Solicits Ideas for "Bioeconomy" Blueprint  
The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issued a Request for Information (RFI) on October 11 soliciting recommendations for "Building a 21st Century Bioeconomy," an initiative aimed at "harnessing biological research innovations to meet national challenges in health, food, energy, and the environment while creating high-wage, high-skill jobs."  Responses to the RFI, which are due on Tuesday, December 6, will be used to build a National Bioscience Blueprint.
As described in the Federal Register notice, the Blueprint "will identify strategies to meet grand challenges, promote commercialization and entrepreneurship, focus research and development investments in areas that will provide the foundation for the bioeconomy, expand workforce training to prepare the next generation of scientists and engineers for the bioeconomy jobs of the future, identify regulatory reforms that will reduce unnecessary burdens on innovators while protecting health and safety, and describe appropriate public-private partnerships to accelerate innovation in key areas." All of these topics are reflected in the questions in the RFI.

Federal Agencies Issues Proposed Rule on Select Agents
The Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Agriculture (USDA) released a proposed rule for comment on October 3 that would revise the regulations governing possession and use of biological select agents and toxins.  Comments are due on December 2. The proposed changes largely mirror the recommendations made earlier this year by the Federal Experts Security Advisory Panel, an interagency group assembled under an Executive Order of the President to re-examine the U.S. select agent program. Among other changes, the proposed rule would create tiers in the select agent list of pathogens and toxins to differentiate the most dangerous agents; establish new minimum personnel and physical security requirements for Tier 1 agents; move agents to and from the list; change definitions related to screening of individuals working with select agents; and create additional training requirements. The proposed rule also suggests reducing from five years to three years the time that a security risk assessment for working with select agents is valid.
Teacher Preparation
On September 30, Education Secretary Duncan proposed a $185 million Presidential Teaching Fellows program to support rigorous state-level policies and provide scholarships for future teachers to attend top programs.  The students would be prepared to teach high-need subjects, and, upon graduation, teach for at least three years in high-need schools.  Second, the Administration proposed $40 million for the Hawkins Centers for Excellence program to prepare the next generation of minority teachers.  Minority-serving institutions, or MSIs, would be eligible to receive competitive grants to reform and expand teacher preparation programs.  Funding could be used to partner with local school districts or non-profit organizations to help place minority candidates into high-need schools. Finally, based on existing authority in the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008, the Administration proposed changes in schools of education and state reporting, to focus on outcome measures like student academic achievement, teacher retention rates, and teacher/employer satisfaction rates.  There will be a negotiated rulemaking process by which proposed changes will be considered.

ESEA Flexibility
According to the U.S. Department of Education, more than half the nation's states have notified the Department of their intent to request relief from key provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in exchange for serious state-led efforts to close achievement gaps, promote rigorous accountability, and ensure that all students are on track to graduate college- and career-ready.  As of October 12, 17 states (Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont, and Wisconsin) had indicated an intent to request Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) flexibility by November 14, 2011, for a December peer review, and 18 states (Arkansas, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Virginia, and Washington), the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico had indicated an intent to request flexibility by mid-February 2012, for a spring 2012 peer review.  Two more states (Connecticut and Oregon) have also indicated intent without a specific timeline. 

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