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 second term Obama Administration.

Capitol News: Congressional, Administrative, and Court Actions

  • CONGRESS: Congressional Committees; Farm Bill; Offshore Energy; Carbon Tax; NRC; State of the Union Address.
  • Administration & Independent Agencies: Immigration; R&D Spending; NSF Reporting Requirements; Wild Horses; Climate; Disaster Declarations; NASA Safety; DOE Clean Energy; Arctic Drilling; Nuclear Repository; Climate Report.
  • COURTS: NRC & Yucca; Logging & CW; Stem Cells.

Noteworthy News: Immigration Obstacles; Keystone Pipeline; Climate Advocacy; College Benefits; Teachers & Testing; Patent Rankings; College Completion; MOOCs, Online Learning, Oil Industry Advocacy.

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

Timely Topic: Obama Administration – Second Term.   As often happens with a new Administration, some Department and Agency heads stay on for a second term, but many leave. So, here’s a run down on what we currently know.

  1. USDA Secretary Vilsack is staying.
  2. Education Secretary Duncan is staying.
  3. HHS Secretary Sebelius is staying.
  4. VA Secretary Shinseki is staying.
  5. Attorney General Holder is staying.
  6. Secretary of State Clinton is leaving.  Senator Kerry has been nominated and is expecting an easy confirmation.
  7. Secretary of Defense Panetta is leaving.   Former Senator Hagel will have his nomination hearing on January 31, 2013, by the Senate Armed Services Committee.  Although the process may be bumpy, he will likely be confirmed.
  8. CIA Director nominee is John Brennan.  His hearing will take place on February 7, 2013 in the Senate Intelligence Committee.
  9. Treasury Secretary Geithner is leaving.  President Obama nominated Jack Lew, his current Chief of Staff.
  10. Interior Secretary Salazar is leaving at the end of March.
  11. EPA Administrator Jackson is leaving.  A nomination announcement is expected any day.
  12. Energy Secretary Chu is expected to leave.  A nomination announcement is expected any day.
  13. Secretary of Labor Solis is leaving.
  14. Obama’s new Chief of Staff is Denis McDonough.
  15. Commerce – no work on the next Secretary.
  16. PTO Commissioner Kappos is leaving.

Rumors continue to fly about replacements for such key positions as EPA Administrator and Secretary of EnergyThe Washington Post maintains an interactive site on top positions.  The three names The Post lists for EPA are: Bob Perciasepe, EPA Deputy Administrator; Mary Nichols, California Air Resources Board Chair; and, Gina McCarthy, Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. For DOE, the top names are: Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter (D); former Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.); and, Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter.  I think there may be other wildcards, including MIT’s Ernie Moniz. Former Governor Gregoire’s name keeps coming up for a Cabinet position, as well.

Capitol News.


  • Congressional Committees.  House Science.  Rep. Smith (R-TX), the new Chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, announced new Republican subcommittee chairman.  The appointments surprised many as they include a freshman member, Rep. Massey (KY) as the chairman of the Technology Subcommittee.  Many of the subcommittee chairs, including the Chairman, have one thing in common; they tend to deny climate change is caused by human activities.  Other subcommittee chairs include: Rep. Lummis (WY) for Energy, Rep. Harris (MD) for Environment, Rep. Bucshon (IN) for Research, Rep. Palazzo (MS) for Space, and Rep. Broun (GA) for Oversight.  Broun recently stated, “All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell.”  Many House Committees plan to hold organizational meetings next week.  I will keep you posted on the actions of relevant Committees.
  • Farm Bill – House.  The recent fiscal cliff deal included an extension of some farm bill programs (see “Let’s Make a Deal”); prospects for a full reauthorization remain questionable.  Last Congress, the House Republicans elected to not bring the Committee-passed bill to the House floor for a vote. House Ag Committee Ranking Member Peterson (D-MN) sent a scathing letter to Speaker Boehner accusing Republican leadership of “lying” and treating the Ag Committee with “disrespect” and calling it a “fools errand” to craft a long-term bill if the Republican Leadership will not allow floor votes.
  • Farm Bill – Senate. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Stabenow (D-MI) attacked Republican Leader McConnell for attaching a farm bill extension that preserves large subsidies, at the expense of conservation, disaster and energy programs, according to E&E News.  Chairwoman Stabenow intends to craft a new farm bill in the next Congress that retains elements of the Senate-passed bill, including eliminating direct payments.
  • Offshore Energy.  As reported by The Hill, new Senate Energy Committee Chairman Wyden and Ranking Member Murkowski seem interested in pursuing policies that promote offshore drilling.  Their new approach would give coastal states part of the revenues and potentially promote renewable energy, such as wind.
  • Carbon Tax.  As we have discussed in previous blogs, conservative commentators and experts appear embrace a carbon tax, while some Members continue to object.  Representative McKinley (R-WV) introduced a resolution against a carbon tax on fuels for electricity and transportation.
  • NRC- Questioned.  House Republicans on the House Energy & Commerce Committee sent a letter to Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Macfarlane requesting answers about NRC’s plan for implementing regulations and rules for nuclear reactor.  The letter resembles a wish list from the nuclear industry.  I will keep you posted on the Chairman’s reply.
  • State of the Union.  Speaker Boehner invited President Obama to deliver the State of Union address on February 12, 2013, the birthday of President Lincoln.

Administration & Independent Agencies:

  • Immigration. President Obama intends to introduce and push for comprehensive immigration reform early in his first term, The New York Times reported.  Notably, the package will include provisions to expand visas for highly skilled immigrants.  At the same time, bipartisan efforts continue in the Senate, led by Senators Schumer (D-NY) and Graham (R-SC).  Republican Senator Rubio (FL) also offered an aggressive immigration plan.  Finally, Senator Majority Leader Reid announced that the bill must include a path to citizenship.
  • R&D Spending.  According to a National Science Foundation (NSF) report, US R&D increased to $414.0 billion in 2011, an increase of 1.8 percent, far less than the GDP growth of 3.9% from 2010 to 2011.  Historically, R&D spending growth exceeded GDP growth in the US, so this is not a positive event.
  • NSF Reporting Requirements.  Starting March 18, 2013, NSF will have new reporting requirements for Principal Investigators (PIs) and co-PIs, requiring report submissions in Research.gov.
  • Wild Horses.  The Bureau of Land Management announced new restrictions on the sale of wild horses and burros from federal lands. The restrictions are in response to a ProPublica report revealing that BLM sold nearly 2,000 horses to a supporter of horse slaughtering.  The new policy limits the number of horses and/or burros sold to four in a six-month period and requires the purchase to described plans for the animals for the first six-months.  The BLM can refuse loading into a purchaser’s trailer if the horse of burro will not be transported safely and humanely.  For more on wild horses, see American Wild Horse Preservation.
  • Warming ClimateNASA announced that 2012 was the ninth warmest year since 1880, with the nine warmest years all occurring since 1998. For the Continental US, 2012 was the warmest year recorded.  As mentioned below, the US saw record drought.  This indicates a warming trend that will lead to increasing temperatures each decade (although not every year) and likely lead to increasing severe weather.
  • Disaster Declarations. It’s only January and USDA has already declared 597 counties and disaster areas.  This allows producers in those counties to access low-interest emergency loans.
  • NASA Safety Report.  The Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel released its annual report.  The panel, which was established by Congress in 1968 after the fire in the Apollo 1, raises several long-term and emerging concerns, including uncertainty in funding (or funding that does not match the Agency’s mission).
  • DOE Clean Energy Web Tool.  DOE launched an online program, Buildings, Industry, Transportation, and Electricity Scenarios (BITES), on the future of energy-use scenarios.  The tool is designed to allow researchers, students and educators to exam and understand US energy use.
  • Arctic Drilling.  Interior began an expedited review of offshore drilling operations in the Arctic after multiple mistakes and accidents, according to The New York Times.  The review is expected in March.
  • Nuclear Repository. DOE finally released its response to the Blue Ribbon Commission’s report.  The report aims to have a permanent repository by 2048, a pilot interim storage facility by 2021, and a larger interim storage facility by 2025.
  • Climate Report.  The US Global Change Research Program released a draft report concluding that climate change is negatively impacting the economy and health of Americans. Specifically, it states, “the climate change of the past 50 years is due primarily to human activities, predominantly the burning of fossil fuels.”   The report is open for public comment.


  • NRC & Yucca Mountain.  NRC is facing court action, in which several states, regulators and the Nuclear Energy Institute, are asking the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to require NRC review Yucca Mountain licensing application.
  • Logging.  In the Supreme Court case examining whether the Clean Water Act covers logging roads stormwater runoff, the Court requested a brief from the Administration, and permitted the parties to provide additional briefs (EPA currently excludes the runoff from CWA). This comes on a recent ruling that releasing water within a single body of water or waterway does not require a permit.
  • Stem Cells.  As reported in an earlier posting, the Supreme Court declined to review the case, Sherley v Sebelius, in which an appellate court upheld the Obama Administrations funding of embryonic stem cell research.  NIH Director Collins applauded the decision.


  • Immigration Obstacles: Congress and the Administration are moving forward with immigration reform, but obstacles remain.  The National Journal concludes those include: A path to citizenship versus legal status; Comprehensive versus piecemeal reform; inclusion of a guest-worker program; The Hastert Rule; a crowded agenda; and, plain old politics.
  • Keystone Pipeline. Pressure is building on the Administration to make a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline.  Nebraska’s Department of environmental quality sent the Governor a report concluding the proposed route does not jeopardize ecologically sensitive areas, according to Platts.
  • Climate Advocacy.  A group of over 70 environmental groups sent a letter to President Obama encouraging him to act on climate change.  Specifically, the groups asked the President to use his executive powers and advocate for action to prevent and reduce climate change.
  • Benefits of College.  Once again, a study demonstrates that having a college degree is beneficial for recipients.  As reported by The New York Times, the Pew study found those with degrees were more able to stay employed during the recession and had smaller decreases in wages.
  • Teachers & Test Scores.   The Gates Foundation issued a report that concluded that it takes several different measures, beyond just test scores to evaluate teacher performance.  The report, which comes from the project, The Measures of Effective Teaching, founded that teaching can be measured by a combination of classroom observations, student surveys, and student achievement gains.  Gates and several other foundations have spent significant amounts of time and money trying to influence education policy.
  • Patent Rankings.  Once again, IBM took the top spot for number of patents in 2012 with 6,478, as reported by The New York Times.  Second place went to Samsung Electronics with 5, 081 patents granted.  IBM helped lead the charge in pushing for changes to the patent system that passed Congress in 2011.
  • College Competition.  College completion is a goal shared by foundations, colleges and Congress.   As The Chronicle for Higher Education reports, the Lumina Foundation has a new plan for college completion that urges the adoption of specific goals and actions by educators and the community.  Lumina also pledge to help states and colleges to create models to achieve the goal on increased college completion.
  • MOOCS & Certification.  Coursera will offer certificates at a cost for students who can verify their work online, according to The Washington Post.  The idea is now in the pilot phase.
  • Online Learning.  Traditional online classes continue to grow.  Over 30 percent of students (6.7 million) in college took an online course, according to the Sloan Consortium, which is an increase of 570,000 students over the previous year.  Traditional online education’s growth increased faster than MOOCs.  The report found that currently MOOCs are a part of only 2.6 percent of higher education institutions, with another 9.4 percent planning on having a MOOC. Read more in Inside Higher Education. Online education will continue to play an increasing role in higher education policy.
  • Oil Industry Advocacy.  The head of the American Petroleum Institute, Gerard, showed his muscle by warning the Obama Administration to not “raising taxes on oil companies, or imposing new environmental regulations on fracking operations, or limiting greenhouse gas emissions from refineries” if America wants to be energy independent, according to The New York Times. Gerard went on to say about the oil and gas industry, “We not only pay our fair share, we pay more than our fair share.”


Upcoming Events (listed by date):

Past Events (listed by date):






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