Money Makes Washington Go Around

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

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The Senate and House are on recess for the next two weeks: We will keep you posted if important developments arise.


Capitol News:  Appropriations & the Budget

Congressional, Administrative

  • CONGRESS: Biofuels; Immigration; Antibiotics and Agriculture; Coastal Energy Revenues; Power Plants Greenhouse Emissions;
  • Administration & Independent Agencies: President’s Budget; Secretary of Interior; EPA Administrator; NIH; Commerce; DOE-OS; NRC; Water Projects, PCAST Report; NASA Restrictions; Energy Trust; ED & Credit Hour; DOE Loans; NRC Upgrades; Water Projects.
  • COURTS: Gainful Employment; Loggers Win; Resale of Books.

Noteworthy News: University-Industry Research; Billionaires & School Reform; Education Assessments; Dwindling Support for Publics; Parents’ Survey; Humanities PhDs; Teachers Colleges; Wind Tax Credits.

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

Capitol News.

Appropriations, Budget, and Sequestration:

Before leaving on a two-week recess, the Senate passed its FY13 Appropriations, which the House then passed and the President signed.  The House and Senate also passed their respective budget bills (after the Senate rejected the House Budget), setting up a major showdown on future spending, with no expectation that the two Chambers will reconcile their differences on the budget, but instead through other legislation, namely appropriations. More details on the appropriations bills and budgets are in the Federal Policy Week posting Funding Fights.

The final FY13 CR included a provision that requires the NSF Director from funding any political science project unless the Director certifies that the project promotes “national security or the economic interests of the United States.”  This amendment follows a letter by the provisions sponsor, Senator Coburn (R-OK) to former NSF Director Suresh outlining his objections to certain NSF research, including political science projects.  See the Chronicle and Inside Higher Ed for additional details, including next steps.

The Senate Budget passed after many votes, including one in favor of building the Keystone Pipeline, which will carry heavy crude across the continental US to refineries in the Gulf.  The vote won by a significant majority, including 17 Democrats, possibly signifying that the President plans to approve the controversial project.

Overall funding of R&D accounts after sequester and the CR is compiled by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The site also has links to letters from the agencies on their plans to address funding with sequester factored into their budgets.

Congress has not followed the traditional process budget in a while, but if you are interested in how the Budget Process is suppose to happen, you may read more at various websites, including the CBPP, CRS, and the Senate Budget Committee.


  • Biofuels: Chairman Upton (R-MI) and Ranking Member Waxman (D-CA) of the House Energy and Commerce Committee began their collaboration on how to handle the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), with the release of a white paper, examining “blend wall” challenges. As described by the press release, the blend wall is “the point at which adding the required volume of ethanol to gasoline supplies would result in ethanol blends that exceed 10 percent, which is the maximum ethanol content approved for sale for use in all vehicles.”  The RFS remains controversial as challenges to meet the standards set rise.
  • Immigration. While the details remain, it appears even more likely that comprehensive immigration reform will finally see its day.  In addition to the four Republican Members working as part of the Gang of Eight in the Senate, Tea Party Senator Paul (R-KY) recently endorsed the concept that illegal immigrants can get citizenship (albeit with hurdles), as reported by The New York Times.   At the same time, more details are emerging on the anticipated Senate plan, including the fact that the path to citizenship would last 13 years (10 years for a green card and another three for citizenship). The Times reports that discussions remain over several provisions, include the guest-worker program for low-skilled workers, E-Verify, and border security.  Despite the optimism, the Gang of Eight is facing bipartisan rebukes for not moving ahead more quickly.
  • Antibiotics and Agriculture.  In a push to curb antibiotic use for livestock, Representative Slaughter reintroduced the “Preservation for Antibiotics Use for Medical Treatment.” The bill would prevent the prophylactic use of certain antibiotics in healthy farm animals, an activity that is believed to lead to increase antibiotic resistant strains of diseases.
  • Coastal Energy Revenues.  As expected, Senators Murkowski (R-AK) and Landrieu (D-LA) introduced a bipartisan bill, the FAIR Act, which would direct some of the revenues from energy development to coastal states. The bill (language pending) provides between 27.5 and 37.5% of revenues from offshore production to the coastal state, as well as other bonuses for renewable production. Currently, interior states receive half of the revenues generated on land in their borders. As reported in The Hill, Energy Chairman Wyden (D-OR) has not yet endorsed the bill.
  • Power Plants Greenhouse Emissions.  EPA issued a proposed rule that requires new power plants of all types, including coal-fired plants, to achieve the same gas emissions as new natural-gas plants.  As a result, four Democratic Senators are urging the President direct EPA to create different standards for different fuel sources in the final rule.  The letter, sent by Senators Manchin (D-WV), Landrieu (D-LA), Donnelly (D-IN), and Heitkamp (D-ND), claims the new rules would effectively prevent the construction of new or the upgrading of existing coal-fired plants.

Upcoming Congressional Hearings

Senate Energy:

Administration & Independent Agencies:

  • President’s Budget. The President typically releases his budget the first Monday of February.  The budget is now expected April 8, 2013
  • Secretary of Interior: The Senate Energy Committee voted favorably on the nomination of Jewell for Secretary of Interior, sending her nomination to the full Senate.  Her approval came only after the current Secretary of Interior agreed to revisit the denial of a road through a pristine Alaska wilderness area (Alaska’s Izembek National Wildlife Refuge), as demanded by Senator Murkowski, Ranking Member of the Energy Committee. As also reported by Sun Herald, Jewell’s nomination still faces obstacles in the full Senate.  One such Senator is by Senator Inhofe (R-OK), who is trying to secure promises for his state.
  • EPA Administrator.  Senator Blunt has placed a hold on the nomination of Gina McCarthy for EPA Administrator in an attempt to secure movement on an Environmental Impact Statement for the St. John’s Bayou and New Madrid Floodway Project.  This $165 million controversial project, which would provide some benefit to landowners, but at great cost to wetlands and wildlife.
  • NIH – NIGMS. NIH Director Collins announced the appointment of Johns Hopkins professor, Dr. Lorsch as the Director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.  As mentioned in the release, “Dr. Lorsch will oversee the institute’s $2.4 billion budget, which primarily funds basic research in the areas of cell biology, biophysics, genetics, developmental biology, pharmacology, physiology, biological chemistry, biomedical technology, bioinformatics and computational biology. The institute also supports a substantial amount of research training as well as programs designed to increase the diversity of the biomedical and behavioral research workforce.”
  • Commerce.  The top person at Commerce, Acting Director Blank is leaving for the Chancellor position at University of Wisconsin, Madison.
  • DOE- OS.  Brinkman, the Director of DOE Office of Science announced his is leaving DOE.  His last day will be April 12, 2013.
  • NRC.  The President announced his intention to re-nominate Chairman Allison Macfarlane to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, as Commissioner and Chair.
  • PCAST Paper.  The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) issued a report outlining six strategies for addressing climate change. They include: focus on national preparedness for climate change; continue efforts to decarbonize the economy; level the playing field for clean-energy and energy-efficiency technologies; and, sustain research on next-generation clean-energy technologies.
  • NASANASA closed a database –used by students, researchers, and academics – to the public and announced it will restrict access by foreign nationals to NASA facilities, as reported by The New York Times.  These actions are a direct result of the arrest of Chinese national who was a contractor at a NASA research center.
  • Energy Security Trust Troubles. President Obama’s Energy Security Trust is facing opposition from several Republicans who want expanded drilling in refuges and other locations, according to Politico.
  • ED & Credit Hour.  The Acting Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education has laid out, in a letter, ways for institutions to seek approval of competency-based education or “direct assessment”  – allowing non credit hour degree programs.  As reported by Inside Higher Ed, ED plans to allow the first “direct assessment” of learning program to participate in federal financial aid programs.
  • DOE – Unused Funds.  According to a report from the Government Accountability Office to the Chairs and Ranking Members of the Senate and House Energy Appropriations Subcommittees, the DOE Loan Office has $51 billion in unused funds and $170 million in credit subsidy unused, according to The Hill.   The Loan Office programs covered in the report include the Loan Guarantee Program in 2005 and its Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing.
  • NRC Improvements Required.  The NRC, in a split vote, decided to require reactors with emergency vents similar to the ones involved in the Fukushima incident to make improvements, as reported by The New York Times.  The improvements do not include requiring filters, a requirement the industry opposed. The vote impacts emergency vents at 31 reactors.
  • Water Projects.  The Obama Administration released new guidelines for federal water projects (Principles and Guidelines for Water and Land Related Resources Implementation Studies) that place a greater emphasis on environmental factors.


  • Gainful Employment.  In a blow to ED, a federal judge denied its attempt to amend the ruling invalidating parts of the ED’s “gainful employment” rule to allow data collection.  The “gainful employment” rule was intended to ensure that students at vocational programs were properly prepared for employment.  As reported by Inside Higher Ed, “what happens next is unclear.”
  • Loggers Win.  In a blow to the Clean Water Act, the Justices ruled (Decker, Oregon State Forester, et al. v. Northwest Environmental Defense Center) that the logging industry does not need storm-water runoff permits for logging roads, consistent wit EPA’s conclusion that permits were not required.  As described in The New York Times, the ruling may have further implications for giving deference to agency interpretations.
  • Libraries Win.  In another Supreme Court case (Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons), the Court ruled that owners of books might resell their books or other copyrighted books.  As reported in The Chronicle, librarians declared victory with the ruling, which found that the “final sale” doctrine also is valid for copyrighted works made outside the US.


  • University Industry Outreach.  In a growing trend to attract industry money for research, some universities are offering licensing terms very favorable to industry.  Iowa State and University of Iowa, for example, announced new policies that give industry sponsors of research who pay an extra $15,000, exclusive rights to results.  As reported in The Chronicle, the schools hope to bring in more money to increase research and cover overhead costs. 
  • Billionaires and School ReformThe Washington Post Education blog discusses how billionaires in America became the “cause célébre.”  Starting with a historical summary of education reform, the piece concludes that it began with the globalization that required a focus on both excellence and equity in education and “believing that teachers and bureaucrats were incapable of thinking systemically about educational improvement,” the billionaire reformers decided they needed to change education from the outside, emboldened by their private sector experiences.
  • Education Assessment Report.  The Gordon Commission on the Future of Assessment in Education issued a report imploring policymakers to use assessments properly.  The three key suggestions are: a permanent council based on the Education Commission of the States should be established by the states; new ideas on assessment should be included in the next ESEA; and, relevant federal agencies, together with teacher organizations, universities and other non-profit organizations, should conduct R&D to “strengthen the capacity of the US assessment enterprise.”
  • Dwindling State Support for Publics.  The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities issued a report confirming what we know: State Support for Public Universities is dwindling. Specifically the report found that: States reduced spending per student by 28% compared to 2008 and 48 states are spending less on higher education per student.  As a result, public colleges and universities have increased tuition by 27% since the 2007-08 school year and have cut spending, including eliminating faculty positions and courses, and reduced library hours and other services.
  • Parents’ Views on Colleges.  A comprehensive survey by Inside Higher Ed found that among the many conclusions, the majority of parents would restrict the schools to which their children apply because of cost concern; that vocational certificates are more valuable than liberal arts degrees for job prospects; and parents’ anxiety increases as children get closer to college.
  • Humanities PhDs.   In response to the difficulties facing humanities PhDs jobs prospects, several universities have created a new initiative the Praxis Network, which will display innovative approaches to expand humanities education, as reported by Inside Higher Ed.  The programs share common themes including interdisciplinary cooperation; exploring how new technologies affect research, and helping students expand their understanding of career options.
  • Teacher Education Colleges.  A report by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education on the status of teacher preparation programs include: Teacher programs are accepting academically competitive candidates; Clinical experiences are included in higher education based teacher prep programs; and, teacher prep programs are infusing technology into course work.
  • Wind Tax Credits. As a direct result of the renewed tax credit, wind projects are on the rise, as reported by The New York Times.  To qualify for the tax credit projects need to be under construction, not completely operational, a change that came with reauthorization of the credit. Given the focus on existing projects instead of new ones, the long-term prospects of the industry remain unclear.


Upcoming Events (listed by date):


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