Government Relations

Government Relations Legislative Update

Government Relations Legislative Update

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

Friday, March 30, 2012

Federal Update for Friday, March 30, 2012

The House met in pro forma session today, with no votes, and will be in recess for the next two weeks, reconvening on Monday, April 16. The Senate did not meet today and also will reconvene on April 16.

Following two days of debate and consideration of seven different budget plans, the House on March 29 narrowly passed the FY13 budget resolution introduced on March 20 by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI). The vote was 228-191, with 10 Republicans and all Democrats voting against the measure. The Wisconsin delegation voted along party lines.

The budget resolution would cut spending significantly on a wide variety of domestic discretionary and entitlement programs, while protecting defense spending. It also calls for revamping Medicare and Medicaid, repealing health care reform, and overhauling the tax code.

The House budget resolution would set FY13 discretionary spending about $19 billion below the $1.047 trillion level approved with bipartisan support in last year's Budget Control Act (BCA), with added funding for defense and cuts in domestic spending. As reported by, the budget plan would set defense discretionary spending at $554 billion, or about $8 billion above the BCA level. Domestic discretionary spending would be set at $474 billion, or about $27 billion below the BCA level, says the publication.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) told The Hill last week that he had hoped the discretionary spending level in the House budget resolution would be higher, but he added, "It's a workable number. We'll make it work." Chairman Rogers also has reached agreement with the House leadership to "ignore" a provision in the budget resolution that would require future emergency disaster assistance to be fully offset by other funding cuts, reports Politico.

Meanwhile, Senate Democratic leaders are sticking with the BCA discretionary spending level of $1.047 trillion. As required by the BCA, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) filed a "deeming" resolution on March 20, which sets discretionary spending for FY13 at that level and enables Senate appropriators to begin moving their FY13 funding bills.

The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) reports that the House budget resolution proposes a number of cuts in federal student aid. These include eliminating the in-school interest subsidy for undergraduate students, eliminating funding for Pell Grants out of the mandatory side of the budget, eliminating Pell and campus-based aid administrative cost allowances, and allowing interest rates on subsidized Stafford loans to double, as scheduled, on July 1 from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent.

Presumably, cuts in domestic discretionary spending would translate into cuts in research programs. The energy section of the budget summary (page 30) says:

"This budget would continue funding essential government missions, including energy security and basic research and development, while paring back duplicative spending and non-core functions, such as applied and commercial research or development projects best left to the private sector."

However, the budget resolution itself does nothing to prevent cuts in energy or other scientific research.

The UW System Office of Federal Relations has posted on its website the UW System's FY13 Federal Priorities binder. It can be found at:

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on March 29 released its new policy on reviewing and regulating dual use research of concern. The policy appears to be a government-wide policy for all federal agencies that fund research on select agents. Select agents are biological agents or toxins which have been declared by HHS or the Department of Agriculture as having the "potential to pose a severe threat to public health and safety."

Although the scope of the policy is limited to 15 select agents, it includes a number of problematic features. The policy calls for a review of all current and future federally funded research to try to identify "dual use research of concern" (DURC). The definition of such research is adapted from that of the National Science Advisory Board on Biosecurity (NSABB). It defines such research as:

"life sciences research that can be reasonably anticipated to provide knowledge, information, products, or technologies that could be directly misapplied to pose a significant threat with broad consequences to public health and safety, agricultural crops and other plants, animals the environment, materiel or national security."

To narrow the scope, the policy identifies 15 select agents and five categories of research adapted from the NSABB definition of DURC.

The review is to be conducted by the federal agencies, although there is little detail on how it will be accomplished. Under the new policy, identification of DURC triggers development of a risk mitigation plan with the relevant research institution(s). A number of risk mitigation measures are suggested, ranging from modifying the research design and enhancing biosafety measures to education, as well as ongoing review of the research in progress.

The policy says that if the risk cannot be mitigated, options might include redaction of research results (and it notes that this might trigger export control laws) or classification of the research. While the statement cites National Security Decision Directive 189 (NSDD-189), its suggestion that fundamental research could be classified following an ambiguously defined review seems to contradict the intent of NSDD-189, which states that fundamental research should be unrestricted to the maximum extent possible. Finally, the policy designates either the NSABB or the Countering Biological Threats Interagency Policy Committee as the final arbiters of review and guidance.

The policy statement identifies no opportunity for public comment, and it is not clear from the website how or when the new policy will be applied.

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