Welcome to Federal Policy Week, a blog that covers federal policy developments in education, research, science, agriculture, energy, environment and natural resources, and intellectual property. 

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Timely Topic: The Deal to Delay Sequestration

Capitol News: Congressional, Administrative, and Court Actions

CONGRESS: Boehner Re-elected; Senate Committees; Appropriations Riders; House Energy Plans.

Administration & independent agencies: NY Wind; Remedial Education; Budget Delay; Charter Schools.

COURTS: Water Fights.

Noteworthy News: Education & Poverty; Unmotivated Test Results; Guns and Schools.

In the Know: A Preview of Upcoming Events in DC.


The Fiscal Cliff Deal.  The Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, or fiscal cliff deal, delays the inevitable hard decisions policy makers must make, especially finding new ways to raise revenues.  In addition to the much talked about tax provisions, the deal included some notable provisions.

  1. Two-month delay in cuts required under sequestration. This delays the cuts to both defense and non-defense spending.  However, that only gives lawmakers two months to reach a deal to prevent eight and nine percent across-the-board cuts to programs, including funding for research and education.
  2. Extension of the Production Tax Credit. It opens cellulosic feedstocks to include algae-derived fuels; extends the tax credit for biofuels (and retroactively adds a credit off a dollar-a-gallon); extends credit for wind power projects under construction by end of 2013.
  3. Extends Research tax credit.
  4. Extends Tuition Deduction through 2013.
  5. Extends Educational Assistance Programs for employees (Section 127 of Tax Code), including for graduate students.
  6. Extends the Farm Bill, but doesn’t provide funding for some key sustainable programs, most notably the Conservation Stewardship Program, which provides farmers incentives and rewards for conservation measures.

Check out the White House blog for its whiteboard presentation of the Act. Also, the CCH Group has an excellent summary of the various provisions of the Act. The deal has special implications for non-profits with adjustments to the charitable deduction, as outlined in Nonprofit Quarterly.

Capitol News.


  • Speaker Boehner.  The Republicans in the House re-elected Congressman Boehner (OH) as their Speaker for the next Congress.  Although there was some dissent, he won by an overwhelming majority with 220 of the 234 Republican members voting for Boehner.
  • Congressional Committees.  Senate Democrats and Republicans announced their Committee assignments.  Some notable changes occurred, including Senator Cochran (MS) displacing Senator Roberts (KS) as Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. Senator Alexander (TN) (the Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for Energy) will rejoin the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, as well as Senators Flake (AZ) and Scott (SC).  Joining the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, are Republican Senators Wicker (MS) and Fischer (NE).
  • House Appropriations Riders.  In an article in Environment & Energy Daily, Republican Chairman Rogers (KY) announced that he anticipates a reduced number of riders in future appropriations bills.  The reduction apparently extends to environmental riders.  Time will tell if the Chairman can keep Members from adding them to the bills.
  • House Energy Committee Plans.  The Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy announced that his subcommittee would continue with a similar agenda in the 113th Congress.  According to The Washington Post, Chairman Shimkus (IL) plans to prioritize a few issues, including nuclear waste disposal, standards for coal ash, and oversight of fracking regulation efforts by EPA.

Administration & Independent Agencies:

  • NY Offshore Wind.  On the coattails of recent offshore wind efforts in several East Coast states (see blog posting Moving Policy Forward), the Department of Interior announced efforts (see bottom of linked page) to find developers of wind projects off the coast of New York.  The New York Power Authority has already expressed an interest in developing offshore wind.
  • Remedial Education.  The Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics released a report examining trends and data on the taking of remedial courses by undergraduate students in their first year of school.  Although there are limitations on the quality of data (it is self-reported), it does break down much of the data into useful categories (ie field of study, parents’ education, age, and race).
  • Budget Delay? There are rumors that the Defense Department may not release its 2014 budget on time.  The President’s Budget is typically released in early February, but the deal to delay sequestration lasts until March 1.  With the sequestration only delayed and not settled, DOD may wait for a resolution to submit its budget, according to DefenseNews.  Likely, the entire Budget will be delayed.
  • Private Public Charter Schools.  A ruling by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) found a publicly-funded, privately-run charter school in Chicago was subject to NLRB jurisdiction, which is limited to the private sector.  As reported by The Washington Post, this moves these schools closer to classification as private, although they are publicly funded.


  • Water Fights.  As drought persist and demand for water increases, fights over water rights will continue to escalate.  The Supreme Court agreed to review a case between a Texas water district and the Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB), as reported by E&E News.  The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the Texas water districts claims, under the Commerce Clause, to force the OWRB to release additional water because it had allegedly restrict out-of-state- permits. A multi-state, including Oklahoma and Texas, water compact’s reach will remain part of the deliberation.


  • Education and Poverty.  While not new, many educators know many factors underlie that achievement gap, most notably poverty.  Despite that, many new reformers believe assessments and higher standards for teachers alone can close the gap and raise education levels (or at least test scores).  The Washington Post education blog a critique of the fashionable approach of ignoring some key root causes of education failures.
  • Academically Adrift or Unmotivated?  Testing to measure how much a student learns after completing a college education has set off alarm bells.  In some cases, it appears students aren’t learning much.  A recent study found that the results are questionable because students may not have the motivation to do well on the tests when they know the results do not impact them directly.
  • Guns and Schools.  The Association of American Universities released a statement calling for efforts to end gun violence stating “We believe that strong, meaningful action needs to occur in three domains: gun control, care of the mentally ill, and the culture of our contemporary media.”


Upcoming Events (listed by date):




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