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 back from recess and have a lot on their plates.


Capitol News:  

Congressional, Administrative, Courts

CONGRESS: FY13 Budget; FY14 Budget; Immigration; Senate Farm Bill; Potential Energy Bills; House Science Views & Estimates; Natural Gas; Congressional Hearings.

ADMINISTRATION & Independent agencies: President’s Budget; Environmental Obstacles; Brian Initiative; NSF-SBE; Emission Rules; NASA’s Hansen; Duncan on College Athletics.

COURTS: Affirmative Action; Roadless Rule.

Noteworthy News: Study in Canada; International Graduates in US; Keystone XL; Vouchers; Humanities Online; Higher Ed Finances; edX & Stanford.

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

Capitol News.


Final FY13 Budget.  Congress passed, and the President signed, the final federal budget for 2013 before leaving for recess (see Federal Policy Week posting Money Makes Washington Go Around).  Overall, the final bill cuts over $500 million in funding for R&D compared to FY12 in addition to cuts from sequestration cuts, as estimated by the AAAS

FY 14 Budgets.  As also discussed in Federal Policy Week, the House and Senate passed their respective budgets.  As reported, the House budget slashes non-defense funding.  In contrast, the Senate budget restores the sequestration cuts and uses pre-sequestration caps.  The Chambers have already begun hearings on the federal budgets (and the President’s budget is imminent – see below).

Immigration.  With the budget process squared away and moving to the next steps, Congress is tackling immigration.  With labor and business groups reaching a deal on guest workers, reform obstacles appear to be crumbling, at least in the Senate.

  • Senate: The “Gang of Eight” in the Senate is expected to release its blueprint soon.  According to the Roll Call article, some of the Senators have set a goal for hearings in the Judiciary Committee in April and a bill on the Senate floor in May, but that may be too optimistic.  The Judiciary Committee Chairman, who plans to meet with the “Gang,” is looking for an expedited process, but key Republicans, including Senator Rubio (R-FL), have indicated that they want to take the time for the legislation to go through the full legislative process, as reported in The Washington Post.
  • House: At the same time, the House Members expect to reach and release their deal soon, as reported by Politico.  The biggest hang-up appears to be the cost of reform.  The plan is expected to be similar to the Senate deal — with potentially more obstacles for citizenship and more restrictions on benefits, as well as a piecemeal approach. Some reports indicate the bill will have three paths to citizenship, including a faster track for young immigrants (think DREAM Act).  While calling it a “tall order” Majority Leader Cantor reportedly remains optimistic that some kind of bill can pass.
  • President Obama meanwhile plans to work from the Senate bill, instead of introducing his own, given reports that legislation is imminent, as reported by Roll Call.

Farm Bill.  The Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman plans to mark up a new farm bill soon, according to E&E News.  The Senate passed a farm bill last year, but the House never moved forward with its bill.  This time, new (he was term-limited at Appropriations and is a former Ag. Committee Chairman and replaces Senator Roberts from Kansas) Ranking Member Cochran (R-MS) will advocate for more for funding for Southern crops, likely at the expense of other crops or conservation or food programs, but the trade-offs remain unknown.

Energy Bills: Members continue to introduce energy-related legislation.

  • Senate.  Senator Casey (D-PA) again introduced legislation, the Natural Gas Energy and Alternative Rewards (NGEAR) Act to extend tax cuts for natural gas filling stations and vehicle fuel that would otherwise expire at the end of the year. NGEAR also establishes a rebate program for buying natural gas buses.   
  • House: The House energy agenda, as described by The Washington Post, focuses on fossil fuel: increasing exploration, production, exportation (including approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline), etc.  The focus covers all forms of fossil fuel, including oil, gas and coal.
  • As reported in National Journal other pieces of legislation expected to have potential in both Chambers include legislation on: energy efficiency, offshore drilling, nuclear waste storage, ethanol reform, and hydropower.

House Science Committee Views.  The House Science Republicans shared their “Views and Estimates” with the Budget Committee for FY14.  Of note, it plans to reauthorize legislation for NASA, NIST and NSF (part of COMPETES), as well as energy. The Republicans top priority for R&D is basic research, especially through the Office of Science.  It calls the Space Launch System and Multi Purpose Crew Vehicle the top priority for NASA and predicting severe weather as the top priority for NOAA. For NSF, the V&E notes its support for a “healthy budget for NSF,” but objects to funds “diverted” to environmental priorities and stated that the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences funds “are better spent on higher priority scientific endeavors that have demonstrated return on investment for the American taxpayer.”

Natural Gas Forums. The Senate Energy Committee announced a series of forums on natural gas in May.  The three public forums will focus on: “Infrastructure, Transportation, Research and Innovation;” “Domestic Supply and Exports,” and “Shale Development: Best Practices and Environmental Concerns.”

Upcoming Congressional Hearings (APRIL)

Senate Energy:

Senate EPW

Hearing on the Nomination of Gina McCarthy to be Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, April 11, 2013

Senate Appropriations

Budget of the Department of Commerce, April 11, 2013

House Science

Threats from Space: A Review of Non-U.S. Government Efforts to Track and Mitigate Asteroids and Meteors, Part II

House Education

Raising the Bar: Reviewing STEM Education in America, April 10, 2013

House Commerce & Energy

The Coal Ash Recycling and Oversight Act, April 11, 2013

House Appropriations

Administration & Independent Agencies:

President’s Budget. The President typically releases his budget the first Monday of February.  The budget is now expected April 10, 2013.  Some additional budget hearings of interest include:

Preview of the Budget.  The President’s 2014 Budget does not appear to be winning many rave reviews.  Overall, he has offered to cut some entitlement programs (bothering Democrats) in exchange for tax increases (irritating Republicans), as reported by The Washington Post.  The budget is said to include the new pre-school program for four-year-olds from low and middle-income families mentioned in the State of the Union speech and funding for the new brain initiative (discussed below).

Environmental Obstacles.  In a speech to donors, President Obama announced that environmental politics “are tough: according to The New York Times.  While not explicitly mentioned, it appears he was providing his reasons for a likely approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which has the support of Republicans and some Democrats in tough races in 2014.

Brain Initiative.  The President announced the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative, which focuses on better understanding the brain.  The initiative is designed to assist researchers discover ways to treat, cure, and prevent brain disorders — such as Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, and traumatic brain injury.

Social Sciences at NSF.  As mentioned above, the House Science Committee is questioning the funding at the SBE Directorate of NSF.  In addition, the Federal Policy Week posting Money Makes Washington discussed the language that drastically restricts funding for political science projects by NSF.  NSF released a brochure demonstrating the benefits of “human-focused research” to justify funding at SBE.

Emission Rules.  EPA announced new emissions rules that drastically reduce allowable emissions for vehicles.  But as pointed out by The New York Times, these rules may actually slow the development of alternative fuel vehicles because they will allow the internal combustion engine to survive as is becomes more efficient.

NASA’s Hansen.  The NASA scientist who rang the alarm bells on global warming is set to retire.  James Hansen, a climate scientist, is leaving NASA to privately advocate for climate action, as reported by The New York Times.

Duncan on Student Athletes.  Secretary Duncan opined in a recent USA Today piece on the athletics and academics, under the auspices of the NCAA basketball tournament, and the need for more emphasis on academics for university athletes, including raising standards. He also takes on the enormous salaries received by coaches and their financial incentives for winning, that dwarf incentives for academic success, if they exist at all.


Affirmative Action.  The Supreme Court once again looks at public university admissions practice of using preferences for certainty ethnic or racial groups.  This time the Court will decide if the Michigan ballot initiative banning their use at public colleges is constitutional, as reported by The Chronicle.  The Court also is expected to rule soon on a case challenging the University of Texas at Austin’s race-conscious admissions policy for undergraduates.

Roadless Rule.  The US District Court for the District of Columbia rejected a challenge to the roadless rule by the state of Alaska.  The 9th Circuit is also expected to review a lower court’s ruling to invalidate the Bush Administration’s exemption of Tongass National Forest from the roadless rule.


Go North to Study?!  Canada is working to draw international students to its universities, with the goal of doubling the level of students from other countries by 2022, as reported by The New York Times.  In addition to diversity, the international students often pay full tuition, which helps support universities facing cuts to their budgets.

Stay in the US. International graduates decide to stay in the US after graduation primarily if the US economy has strong growth and their country has not.  The research comes from evaluating data from 1960-2008 from National Science Foundation’s Survey of Earned Doctorates as reported by Inside Higher Ed.

Keystone PipelineFederal Policy Week often mentions the Keystone XL Pipeline.  The Washington Post provides a description of the project and politics surrounding it.

Vouchers.  Vouchers remain all the rage with some.  Senator Paul (R-KY) is pushing the “follow the child” approach with public money even if the child goes to private school, as explained in The Washington Post.  As shown when Louisiana adopted this policy, money was approved for private schools that taught flawed curricula (like creationism), lacked facilities or even teachers.  This all comes as the Indiana Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the state’s voucher program, which transfers funds from public schools to private schools, including religious schools.  This is a disturbing, but growing trend, that in my opinion is an effort to either subsidize private (esp. religious schools) or make public schools less functional by depriving them of much needed funds.

Humanities Online.  As online platforms continue to grow, the need for courses in the humanities and other non-STEM classes expands.  Harvard University is offering its first online humanities course, and is requesting help from former students, according to The New York Times.  If the full-range of courses can be successfully offered online, that will aid the arguments for more support (financially and accreditation) for these courses from federal policy makers.

Higher Ed Finance.  The National Association of State Budget Officers released a report calling on states and schools to fix the financial model for higher education, as reported by The Chronicle.  While many of the recommendations are similar to previous reports, this report calls for a more cooperation and openness between states and colleges.

edX.  The Cambridge-based edX, which was founded by MIT and Harvard now has a major partner from the West Coast, namely, Stanford.  Stanford decided to join edX, a free online MOOC, instead of one of the two for-profit MOOCs started by Stanford faculty, as reported in Inside Higher Ed.


Upcoming Events (listed by date)






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