THEY’RE BACK….CONGRESS RETURNS FROM RECESS

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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IN THIS ISSUE:

Capitol News:  

Congressional, Administrative, Courts

  • CONGRESS: Student Loan Bill, ESEA, Patents, Immigration, Gainful Employment, Farm Bill, NASA Reauthorization, Energy Bills, Commerce Bills, Science Bills, Congressional Hearings & Markups.
  • Administration & Independent agencies:  Nominations & Confirmations; DOE & Climate; NAE President; NOAA Placement; NOAA & Climate; National Service; College Affordability Plan; Marine Wind Farm Permits; Forests & Fracking.

Noteworthy News: Freeing Chimps; Schools, Businesses & Blueberries; Common Core; Sequestration & Research, STEM Graduate Students; Training Teachers; OECD Report on Career Education; Foundations & Higher Education; Science Education Timeline

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

Capitol News.  

CONGRESS

  • Student Loan Bills. Congress passed and the President signed into law a student loan bill, the Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act of 2013 that sets new rates for student loans. The new rates are tied to the 10-year Treasury note with a bonus.  Specifically, undergraduate Stafford loans (subsidized and unsubsidized) are set at the 10-year Treasury Note plus 2.05 percent.  Graduate Stafford loans are set at the 10-year Treasury Note plus 3.6 percent, and PLUS loans (graduate and parent) are set at the 10-year Treasury Note plus 4.6 percent. The caps for the new loans are set in the bill as 8.25 percent for undergraduates, 9.5 for graduate Stafford loans, and 10.5 for PLUS loan recipients.  While rates remain relatively low for this year – 3.9 percent for undergraduates, 5.4 percent for graduate students and 6.4 percent for those receiving PLUS loans – they will likely increase in future years.
  • House Passes ESEA Bill.  In a party-line vote, House Republicans passed a new version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, called The Student Success Act.  The bill, which faces strong opposition from House Democrats, includes provisions described in the Education and Workforce Committee fact sheet as returning control of measurements of success to state and local authorities, eliminates over 70 federal programs to return power to the states, and provides support for charters and vouchers.
  • Patents.  Congress is charging ahead with additional patent reform, piling on the very questionable America Invents Act of 2011Politico reports that Congress will take up several patent bills soon.  Multiple bills have been introduced, many to address “patent trolls,” individuals or companies that do not make products or provide services, but own patent rights and sue to enforce those rights.  IPO has a useful summary of the various bills now in Congress.  The House Science Committee also held a hearing on legislation, Technology and Research Accelerating National Security and Future Economic Resiliency Act (TRANSFER) Act (H.R. 2981) that claims to help accelerate the commercialization of federally-funded research and technology.
  • Immigration.  Comprehensive immigration reform hits some obstacles in the House, with disagreement among House Republicans over how to position the party.  As reported by The New York Times, immigration bills are being sidelined by other more pressing issues (e.g.,Syria and the federal budget). And as time passes, the chances of a comprehensive bill passing diminish, leaving the Senate bill to languish in the House.
  • Gainful Employment.  The House Education Committee passed legislation, Supporting Academic Freedom Through Regulatory Relief Act, which repeals the gainful employment, the state authorization, and the credit hour regulations, while modifying the incentive compensation regulation.  Meanwhile, ED released a new draft of the Gainful Employment Rule and is holding sessions to discuss the proposal. As expected, for-profit schools will work for changes to the proposal, which puts federal financial aid in jeopardy if the schools fail to meet the expectations set in the Rule.
  • Farm Bill. As mentioned in the previous Federal Policy Week post Hurry Up and Wait Congress, House Republicans pondered splitting Food Stamps out of the Farm Bill.  Now, in an effort to appease their Members obsessed with cutting the cost, they (not a single Democrat supported it) passed a bill that does not include the food stamp portion of the bill.  Senate Democrats and the Obama Administration have already indicated their objection to the pared-down bill.  Senate conferees were recently announced, although unofficial negotiations between staff were already underway.
  • NASA Reauthorization.  Both the House Science Committee and the Senate Commerce Committee approved NASA reauthorization bills.  The House bill provides a $16.8 billion budget and provides significant funding for the Space Launch System and Orion crew capsule, while prohibiting funding for two Administration proposals – the Asteroid Retrieval Mission and the reorganization of NASA education programs.  The Senate bill, which was passed on a party-line vote, provides over $18 billion annual and remains silent on the Asteroid Retrieval Mission.  These bills, and the partisan divide, create the conditions for a potentially difficult conference of the bills.
  • Energy Bills.  The Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee addressed several energy related bills, including the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act (H.R. 267), the Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act (H.R. 678) – both that deal with hydropower – and The Marine and Hydrokinetic Renewable Energy Act of 2013 (S. 1419) that encourages private investment in marine hydrokinetic power technologies.  The two hydropower bills were passed by the Senate Energy Committee and signed into law.
  • Commerce Bills.  The Senate Commerce Committee marked up a series of bills related to marine issues including: S. 267, Pirate Fishing Elimination Act; S. 269, International Fisheries Stewardship and Enforcement Act; S. 839, Coral Reef Conservation Amendments Act of 2013; S. 1254, Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act of 2013.
  • Science Bills.  The House Science Committee approved a bill, The EPA Hydraulic Fracturing Study Improvement Act [H.R. 2850], on voice vote on that addresses how EPA deals with fracking. The Committee also marked up, and passed on a voice vote, the Weather Forecasting Improvement Act of 2013 (H.R. 2413).

Notable Congressional Hearings & Mark Ups (past & future):

Senate Energy:

Senate Judiciary

Senate EPW

Senate Commerce

Senate Appropriations:

House Education:

House Energy:

House Science:

House Natural Resources:

House Judiciary

House Appropriations:

Administration & Independent Agencies:

  • Nominations and Confirmations. EPA Administrator. The Senate confirmed McCarthy, the prior EPA Assistant Administrator in charge of air and radiation, as the EPA Administrator.
  • DOE and Climate.  According to a report released by the Department of Energy, climate change-driven storms and weather will increasingly impact the US energy system. The report and website includes a map indication locations in the US already impacted by climate change weather events due to drought (decreased water supply), increasing temperature and increasing floods, storm and sea level.  Meanwhile, The New York Times reports that scientists have found increases in extreme weather, as predicted.
  • NAE: Dan Mote began his first six-year term as National Academy of Engineering (NAE) President, replacing Charles Vest.  Mote is the former President of University of Maryland.  As President of NAE, he also serves as Vice Chair of the National Research Council.
  • NOAA: President Obama proposed again moving National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) from the Department of Commerce to Department of Interior, reports E&E News.  Last time the President proposed the move, Congress did not accept the proposal.
  • NOAA & Climate.  Meanwhile, NOAA released the annual state of the climate report.  The report found that major greenhouse gas concentrations, including carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, continued to rise during 2012.  Further, it noted that globally, sea level has been increasing at an average rate of 3.2 ± 0.4 mm per year over the past two decades. Continuing a trend that began in 2004, oceans were saltier than average in areas of high evaporation. Moreover, four major independent datasets show 2012 was among the 10 warmest years on record, ranking either 8th or 9th, depending upon the dataset used. The United States and Argentina had their warmest year on record.
  • National Service. The White House announced that President Obama issued a new memorandum that expands national service.  The intention is to expand national service by providing more opportunities for Americans to volunteer and serve.  The latest program is a three=year $15 million grant program targeted toward the lowest-performing schools with the goal of increasing academic achievement, graduation rates and college/career readiness.
  • College Affordability.  President Obama released a plan with the goal of reducing college costs.  The plan, which has mixed reviews from several sources, including The Washington Post Education Blog, includes the following elements: create a college rating system comparing schools’ value and linking aid to value; challenge states to fund colleges based on performance; hold colleges and students receiving aid accountable for degree progression; have colleges integrate technology into courses; have colleges offer more options and have the options be more affordable and high quality; provide credits based on learning not hours; allow students to cap loan payments to 10% of income; and inform borrowers of their repayment options.
  • Marine Wind Farm Permits. The Department of Interior granted a lease for over 100,00 acres of the East coast for development of wind turbines.  This lease covers lands offshore of Virginia and reflects the Administrations move to increase alternative energy production and sources.
  • Forests and Fracking.  The US Forest Service is considering allowing fracking on some national forest land, reports The Washington Post.  According the Post, the USFS is expected to announce whether to prohibit or permit fracking in the George Washington National Forest, a pristine area in Virginia and West Virginia, when it releases the forest’s 15-year management plan.  Stay turned for an update in a future posting.

NOTEWORTHY NEWS:

  • Freeing Chimps.  As reported in several postings of Federal Policy Week NIH has moved to reduce and restrict testing on chimps and the Fish & Wildlife Service has proposed listing chimps as endangered. The New York Times provides background on the efforts to protect free and caged chimps in the US, and the strange partners who are working toward a common goal of freeing chimps.
  • Schools, Businesses, and BlueberriesThe Washington Post Education blog tells the story of a businessman who once believed that schools should be run more like businesses, until he spoke to teachers and discovered the differences.
  • Common Core.  If you are curious about some information about what is in the Common Core adopted by almost all states and the District of Columbia, look no further for than The Washington Post, which provides seven key facts (dispels myths).  The exams are expected in 2014-15 and are being prepared with $350 million in federal funds.  Some facts include that the Common Core there will be many MORE tests and the same for-profit companies who design current tests will design the new ones under the Common Core (and yes, they will still be multiple choice).  As The New York Times reports, the curricula under the Common Core will cover fewer topics, but cover them more rigorously.
  • Sequestration and Research.  This article from The Huffington Post makes the case that the cuts in federal funding embodied in sequestration are damaging the science and technology community, and the damage may have long-term impacts.  University leaders worry that the cuts will lead to a loss of talented researchers, including from abroad and the cuts are especially problematic for early-stage research.
  • STEM Graduate Students.  A report by the National Foundation for American Policy finds that foreign students are important to STEM graduate programs. Foreign students make up between 40-70 percent of students in graduate STEM programs, with the highest percentage (70%) in electrical engineering programs.
  • Training Teachers.  The State Higher Education Executive Officers and the National Association of System Heads are calling for increased requirements for classroom experience for teachers to improve teacher training, as reported by The Chronicle for Higher Education.  Some of the asks from the group include making the teacher-education programs have stricter and higher-level requirements and more access to professional development once on the job.
  • OECD Report on Career Education. A new OECD report “A Skills beyond School Review of the United States” concluded that the US system of a diverse and decentralized career and technical-education programs has positive and negative consequences.  While the system provides opportunities that meet the needs of many different individuals, the quality of education is less standardized and verifiable.
  • Foundations and Higher Education.  Groups, many funded by the Gates Foundation, are advocating for federal funding to place an emphasis on students graduating and arguing that remedial education reduces graduation rates, as reported by The Chronicle.  Many in higher education are concerned that a push by the federal government to achieve these goals is not effective, realistic, and ignores that fact that research shows that remedial classes are necessary for many students.
  • Science Education.  Over the years, there have been different approaches, topics and trends in science education.  The New York Times provides a synopsis of the major milestones in US science education, beginning in the 1860s when the emphasis was on project-based learning that included building blocks.  It continues through the launch of Sputnik.

IN THE KNOW: EVENTS TO CONSIDER

Upcoming Events (listed by date):

2 thoughts on “THEY’RE BACK….CONGRESS RETURNS FROM RECESS

  1. Pingback: THE PERPETUAL MORASS | FEDERAL POLICY WEEK

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