Congress returned to DC this week. Members held several hearings and several votes took place.  Congress will leave town at the end of next week until November elections are complete, but not before passing a funding bill to keep the Federal Government running. 

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Timely Topics:

–The Continuing Resolution.

Capitol News:

–Congress: Green Cards for STEM PhDs; Hearings and Floor Action

–The Administration: NIH’s NHGRI Restructuring; NSF & Jobs Council Initiative; NSF’s R&D Cluster Report

–Courts: The Navy and Whales.

Noteworthy News:

–OECD Report on State of Higher Education

–Strike in Chicago: A reflection on K-12 Education Policy?

–Cancer Research and Personalized Medicine.

–Carbon Taxes: Are they Sufficient for New Technologies?

–Higher ED: Spending on Pell Down.

In the Know: A Preview of Upcoming Hearings and Events and a List of Last Week’s Hearings.

Timely Topics

The Continuing Resolution

The House passed legislation (called a Continuing Resolution) to fund the federal government through March 27, 2013.  Funding in the CR is set consistent with the FY13 cap set (prorated at $1.047 Trillion) by the Budget Control Act passed by Congress.  The Bill makes minimal changes and funding continues as provided in the FY12 Appropriations Acts. As described by the House Appropriations Committee “The temporary funding measure continues funding at the current rate of operations for federal agencies, programs and services, and provides funding for FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund, for relief and recovery following disasters such as the recent Hurricane Isaac.”  The Senate is expected to pass the CR this upcoming week.

Capitol News: Legislation, Administrative Actions, and Court Action.

Members are back in DC, holding hearings and voting on legislation, including the Continuing Resolution described above.  The Courts continue to make decisions impacting federal policy.


Immigration: Green Cards for STEM Graduates.

The House of Representatives plans to vote on a bill, STEM Jobs Act of 2012, sponsored by Congressman Smith (R-TX), that provides a new type of green card for PhD recipients in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields. (MA degree holders could apply for “extra” green cards not taken by doctoral graduates).  Although both parties favor providing expedited status to STEM graduates, Democrats favor including these provisions as part of comprehensive immigration reform.

Hearings & Floor Action:  A full list of relevant hearings from this past week appears near the end of this week’s blog (together with key upcoming hearings), but below are some to highlight.

–House Votes to End DOE Loan Program. The House of Representatives voted to end the DOE Loan program that funded companies such as Solyndra, the California-based solar company that went bankrupt. As reported by Bloomberg, some Republicans, including Congressman Ryan, advocated for up-front funding and criteria that would ultimately benefit his constituents.

–Senate HELP Committee. “Improving College Affordability: A View from the States.“

–Senate Energy Committee. “The Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2012

–Committee on Energy and Commerce. “The American Energy Initiative: A Focus on H.R. 6172”

–House Education and Workforce Committee. “Expanding the Power of Big Labor: The NLRB’s Growing Intrusion into Higher Education”


–The NIH’s National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) will conduct a major reorganization, effective October 1.  The Extramural Research Program will be made into four new divisions: Genome Sciences, Genomic Medicine, Genomics and Society, and Extramural Operations.  Further, two offices, the office overseeing policy, communications and education and the office overseeing administration and management, will be given division status.

–The President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness and NSF announced an initiative to work with higher education institutions to help them increase by 10,000 the annual number of new graduates with undergraduate degrees in engineering and computer science.  The Program, which will be managed through NSF’s Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Talent Expansion Program (STEP), aims at encouraging universities and colleges to take measures to retain science and engineering students in those fields during the first and second years of schooling, as well as adopt other measures to further the ultimate goal of graduating additional STEM students.

–A recent National Science Foundation report using data collected from the 2008 Business R&D and Innovation Survey, found that large companies focus their R&D in a few geographic locales.  The San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland area leads all other locations in both number of companies and dollars spent. According to the report “Business R&D is concentrated in a small number of states. Of the $232.5 billion of R&D performed in the United States in 2008 that was paid for by the performing companies, $156.6 billion was performed in the 10 states with the highest levels of R&D performance (top 10 states).”


–A US District Court has given the Navy permission to build and operate a naval training site, despite the proximity to the breeding areas of endangered Right Whales, as described in a recent The Washington Post article. The Court rejected the argument the training site construction and the subsequent activities would put the whales at risk of harm or death.  The Navy did agree to halt construction during migration.


Noteworthy News

OECD Report on Education

Education at a Glance, the annual education report published by Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development(OECD) concluded that access to education is still inequitable in many countries.  While the report does not focus on the US, it does provide some startling statistics. For example, in the “United States, more than 40% of young people from low educational backgrounds have not completed upper secondary education, and less than 20% have attained tertiary qualifications.”

K-12 Schools: The Strike in Chicago

The last several years, federal policy affecting K-12 education continues to remain under debate and discussion.  As Congress failed to pass a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the Obama Administration moved ahead with Race to the Top and waivers for States that adopted policies it favors.  Many of the policies actively under debate were raised in the current teachers strike in Chicago.  A recent NY Times article “National Schools Debate is On Display in Chicago” sums the current situation well.  The NY Times’ Editorial Board took a dim view of the union, while The Washington Post Education Blog took the opposite view.  Although the strike may end, the debate will continue.

Cancer and Personalized Medicine

The NY Times reports on new results from a study that examined a common lung cancer, and its genetics. This study, which is part of NIH’s Cancer Genome Atlas, a NIH effort designed to address genetic abnormalities in cancer, found that treatments being developed or easily developed treatments could be used on most of the tumors, leading to more targeted treatment of individuals, or “personalized medicine.”  While Congress is generally supportive of NIH funding, progress in treatments, helps justify and explain the importance of continued strong funding.

Carbon Taxes Insufficient for Zero-Carbon Technology Deployment

According to a new report by The Breakthrough Institute, “Carbon Taxes and Energy Subsidies.  A Comparison of the Incentives and Costs of Zero-Carbon Deployment,” subsidies for low-carbon energy sources are necessary for continued deployment of these technologies.  Proposed carbon taxes are insufficient for robust deployment of zero-carbon energy technologies.

The National Student Clearinghouse released data on the educational foundation two-year institutions provide for students who seek bachelor degrees.  As described by Inside Higher Ed, the data show “that 45 percent of all students who finished a four-year degree in 2010-11 had previously enrolled at a two-year college.”

Pell Grant spending decreased last year, by $2.2 billion. The Department of Education had estimated Pell Grants to cost $40 billion, far above the actual $33.4 billion.  Meanwhile, the number of recipients climbed to 58,000. Inside Higher Ed reports that these numbers mean that Pell recipients received smaller awards overall and attributes this to a variety of possibilities, including a possible shift to part-time schools, and the termination of summer awards.  These new numbers may help proponents fend off further cuts to Pell Grants, but with attacks on higher education funding on-going, only time will tell.

IN THE KNOW: HEARINGS & EVENTS NEXT WEEK (and a reminder about hearings held last week).

Week of September 17 – September 21, 2012


Thursday, September 20

Committee on Armed Services

“Department of Defense Plans for Sequestration: The Sequestration Transparency Act of 2012 Report and the Way Forward“

Committee on Education and the Workforce

“Assessing College Data: Helping to Provide Valuable Information to Students, Institutions and Taxpayers”

Committee on Energy & Commerce

The American Energy Initiative: A Focus on H.R. 6172

Committee on Science, Space, and Technology

The Impact of International Technology Transfer on American Research and Development

Committee on Judiciary

“International IP Enforcement: Opening Markets Abroad and Protecting Innovation”


Wednesday, September 19

Commerce, Science and Transportation

Five Years of the America COMPETES Act: Progress, Challenges, and Next Steps

Health, Education, Labor & Pensions.

“Recalcitrant Cancer Research Act of 2012

Last Week: September 10 – September 14, 2012


Committee on Natural Resources

“The Chu Memorandum: Directives Could Increase Electricity Costs for over 40 Million Families and Small Businesses” 

Committee on Science, Space and Technology

Examining NASA’s Development of the Space Launch System and Orion Crew Capsule

Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure

A Review of and Update on the Management of FAA’s NextGen Program

Committee on Science, Space and Technology

Recent Developments in NASA’s Commercial Crew Acquisition Strategy

Committee on Energy and Commerce

“The American Energy Initiative: A Focus on H.R. 6172”


Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources

The Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2012 S. 3469

Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation

The Path from LEO to Mars

Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works:

“Oversight Hearing: NRC’s Implementation of Recommendations for Enhancing Nuclear Reactor Safety in the 21st Century.”

Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP)

Improving College Affordability: A View from the States.



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