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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Capitol News:  

Congressional, Administrative, Courts

CONGRESS: Budget Deals, House Floor This Week, LHHS Appropriations Bill, Higher Education Act, Energy Bills, Keystone XL, Yucca Mountain, Remedial Education, Congressional Hearings & Markups.

Administration & independent agencies:  Nominations, Confirmations & Departures; NIH Brain Research; EPA & Power Plants; NSF-NSB; Gainful Employment

Noteworthy News: College Tuition; Graduate Enrollment; College Enrollment; Race to the Top; UN Climate Report; Vehicle Efficiency Goals; Diane Ravitch; Global Warming Politics; Preparing Students; MOOC; Space; Typical College Student; CA Immigration.

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

Capitol News.  


  • Budget Deals.  Congressional leaders meet this week to start negotiations on a budget deal reports Roll Call.  Speaker Boehner’s (R-OH) attempts to pass a House budget bill failed when conservatives in the Republican Party rejected his plan partially because it did not defund Obamacare.  Senate Democrats have made clear that Boehner’s plan (especially the idea of defunding Obamacare) is DOA.  Boehner is planning to ask for spending cuts in exchange for racing the debt ceiling.
  • House Floor This Week.  Majority Leader Cantor (R-VA) released a schedule of plans for the House floor this week. House Republicans plan to bring a Continuing Resolution (CR) for FY 14 Appropriations the week of September 16 and the Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act (Cantor summary), which is the second half of the farm bill that covers nutrition programs and cuts them nearly $40 billion.  The nutrition programs were removed from the House Farm bill when conservatives felt cuts to nutrition programs (~$20 B) did not go far enough and refused to support the bill.  The Senate and White House oppose these extensive cuts, as do many religious and food bank groups.
  • House LHHS Appropriations Bill.  House Democrats are requesting a mark up of the House version of the LHHS bill.  As Roll Call reports, full Committee and Subcommittee Ranking Members Lowey (D-NY) and DeLauro (D-CT), respectively, asked Chairman Rogers (R-KY) to schedule a mark up of the LHHS bill.
  • Higher Education Act.  As reported below (HELP Hearings), the Senate plans to begin work on reauthorizing the Higher Education Act, as The Chronicle of Higher Education reports.  The HELP Committee may spend significant time addressing college affordability.  Colleges, in response to a Committee request, suggested various changes, including making Pell Grants year-round and when judging institutions, including factors that incorporate risk factors of the students.
  • Energy Bills.  Last week the Senate planned to debate and vote on several energy bills.  Those plans were foiled by obstruction and the introduction of non-germain amendments. As the National Journal reports, Senator Vitter (R-LA) refused to allow the Senate to move forward until given a vote on his amendment on Obamacare. Meanwhile, the White House issued a SAP supporting S. 1392, the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act of 2013, which it characterized as a “bipartisan legislation (that) would codify and enhance existing Federal programs, further supporting successful efforts to reduce energy waste through building energy codes and industrial energy efficiency programs and by identifying efficiency opportunities in Federal buildings.”
  • Keystone XL.  The Senate is expected to take up debate on the Keystone XL Pipeline in the near future, reports USA TODAY.
  • Yucca MountainYucca Mountain, the proposed site for the long-term repository for nuclear waste, continues to generate debate.  As National Journal reports, at a recent hearing in the House Energy Committee with NRC Chairwoman Macfarlane, the Republican and Democratic members battled over NRC’s actions in response to a court-mandated review of Yucca Mountain.
  • GAO Report – Remedial Education. In response to a request from Congressman Miller (D-CA), Ranking Member on the House Education Committee, GAO issued a report on community colleges and education. The report found that community colleges and states are working with limited research to increase the rate of attainment of postsecondary degrees from students who enter with developmental education, but do not succeed. It found that ED’s research center would help with this problem, “but only if it is successful in uncovering what works and helping colleges to put into practice what the Center learns through its research. Otherwise, community college students entering developmental education will continue to face hurdles in reaching their goals.”

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

Senate HELP

Senate Energy:

Senate Commerce

  • Nominations: Dr. Jo Emily Handelsman to be Associate Director for Science, OSTP; Dr. Robert Simon to be Associate Director for Environment and Energy, OSTP; Dr. Kathryn Sullivan to be Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere, Department of Commerce and Administrator NOAA, September 19, 2013

Senate Foreign Relations:

House Education:

House Energy:

House Science:

House Natural Resources:

Administration & Independent Agencies:

  • Nominations, Confirmations, and Departures.
  1. PTO: The current Acting Director, Teresa Stanek Rea, of the PTO is leaving.  President Obama has not yet nominated a new Director, but a nomination is expected soon.
  2. Economic Adviser.  President Obama has asked Jeffrey D. Zients, who served as the president’s acting budget director, to serve as the chief White House economic adviser.
  3. President Obama nominated France Cordova to be the next Director of NSF.  The HELP Committee will handle her nomination, possibly without a hearing.
  • NIH Brain Research Priorities. The interim report of the BRAIN Working Group’s high-priority research areas for NIH FY 2014 funding will be presented to the Advisory Committee to the NIH Director (ACD) on Monday, September 16, 2013.
  • EPA Will Offer Tougher Standards for Power Plants.   As reported in The Washington Post, the Environmental Protection Agency plans to release a proposal that will, for the first time, impose greenhouse gas limits on power plants.  It will also hold gas-fired power plants to a stricter pollution standard than coal-fired plants.
  • NSF:   The next National Science Board meeting is scheduled for September 19 & 20 at the University of Washington, Seattle, WA.  The agenda includes a presentation on cyberinfrastructure.
  • Gainful Employment.  As discussed in the posting They’re Back of Federal Policy Weekgainful employment” regulations continue to be a hot issue.  As reported in Chronicle of Higher Education, ED wrapped up the first round of discussions over the rewritten “gainful employment” rule, forming six working groups.  The draft provides triggers for terminating federal student aid for for-profit programs (i.e. a debt-to-income ration and a deft-to-discretionary-income ratio).  Other triggers or links for federal financial aid are also under discussion.


  • College Tuition SeriesThe Washington Post has a 10-part series called “The Tuition is Too Damn High” on the costs of higher education, including proposals to bring costs down.  The 10 parts are entitled as follows: Part 1 Why is college so damn expensive?;  Part 2 Why college is still worth it; Part 3 The three stories of rising tuition; Part 4 How important are state higher ed cuts?; Part 5 Is the economy forcing colleges to spend more?; Part 6 Why there’s no reason for big universities to rein in spending; Part 7 Is government aid actually making college more expensive?; Part 8 Are rich kids ruining college for everybody else?; Part 9 Can MOOCs solve the college cost crisis?; Part 10 How can we fix skyrocketing tuition?
  • Graduate Enrollment.  A report from the Council of Graduate Schools shows that graduate-enrollment of first-time students increased from fall 2011 to fall 2012 by 1.8 percent, a first since fall 2009. Increases were mostly seen at public institutions.  In an interesting note, and after a summer of two major reports (by Harvard and the American Academy of Arts & Sciences) on the future of the humanities, the latest numbers show an increase in new students in humanities doctoral programs for first-time students (for a more detailed analysis see Inside Higher Ed).
  • College Enrollment.  Despite efforts by the Administration, non-profits, and higher education groups to increase the number of students attending (and graduating from) college, college enrollment fell by three percent in 2012.  In fact, according to US Census data, this is the first decline in many years (at least from 2006-2011).  The decline in enrollment was apparently driven by students over 25 years old (defined as older students).  Meanwhile Hispanics student enrollment continued to rise.  The data also show that “there were 19.9 million college students, including 5.8 million enrolled in two-year colleges, 10.3 million in four-year colleges and 3.8 million in graduate school.”
  • Race to the Top Update.  According to a new report by the Broader Bolder Approach to EducationMismatches in Race to the Top Limit Educational Improvement” Race to the Top has not provided significant educational improvements. As reported in The Washington Post, the failures are inevitable as the mandates do not align with the funding provided.  Specifically, it finds that “States made promises to the federal government in exchange for Race money that they could not meet even with more time and money…The actions that the Education Department required states to take in exchange for Race money failed to address some of the most important reasons for low student achievement.
  • UN Climate Report – Too Conservative?  The UN climate reports that are often assailed by conservative groups as too extreme, are apparently, too conservative and provide a muted assessment, as reported by The New York Times.  The article provides cases where the authors chose the data that shows the least impact of climate change from the data available.
  • Vehicle Fuel Efficiency Goals.   A recent study released by the University of Michigan shows an average mpg (sales-weighted) as 24.9 mpg for August 2013. This is a significant increase from January 2008, when the average was approximately 20 mpg.  This new level brings the automotive industry closer to meeting the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards issued by EPA and the Department of Transportation last year of 54.5 mpg by 2025 (with an interim goal of 35.5 mpg by 2016).
  • Diane Ravitch.  Diane Ravitch, a historian who helped lead the charge in the Bush Administration for education reform, has done a 180-degree turn.  She now rejects her previous push for more assessments and the business-based education reform model and instead believes that school reform “will solve little without addressing poverty and segregation,” according to The New York Times.
  • Global Warming Politics.  While scientist agree that human activities impact global warming, business and conservative interests have introduced doubt over the years, often confusing the public into questioning the link.  As National Journal reports, less than half of Americans “believe in human-caused global warming.” With that success in mind, the article reports that conservatives and business groups are attacking the last standing argument that appears to have sway with Americans; namely, that environmental regulations help protect against disease and other health issues. House Science Committee Chairman Smith (R-TX) is leading the effort to discredit the science behind the Harvard study showing the link between pollutants and health issues.
  • Preparing Students.  In an attempt to help prepare high school students for college-level math, community colleges in Tennessee are working with high school teachers to develop a program (math lab) to help seniors in math.  As reported in Inside Higher Ed, the test program appears to be getting good results – significant improvements in math scores and pass rates of math requirements.  The program has been expanded to 114 high schools, and the state is looking to expanding it even more broadly.  This does continue the argument over the need and value of remedial classes with some arguing they are critical and others arguing they are an impediment.
  • MOOC SiteedX and Google are creating a website,, that will enable those not at elite institutions to register for and build their own MOOC, reports the Chronicle of Higher Ed.  While some details have been settled, some remain (like how they will make it self-sustaining financially).
  • SpaceThe Washington Post series on the future of space (i.e., NASA’s future, the ISS, Mars exploration, planetary science) continues with a look at the International Space Station (ISS).  Part I of the series focuses on “NASA’s mission improbable,” raises the well-known problem of NASA’s budget not matching it’s mission:  Too many mandates with too little funding.
  • Typical College Students.  While there is no typical college student, the image of someone about 17, 18 or 19 just finishing college is no longer accurate.  As The Washington Post reports, 40 percent of college students are older than 25 years and 40 percent of students are enrolled at community colleges or for-profit colleges. As the article reports, the non-traditional students (e.g. parents, self-supporting, older, veterans) have a difficult time finding support networks at universities and colleges.
  • CA Immigration.  While immigration reform may be stalled at a federal level, some states are moving ahead with their own programs; these may prove models for federal action in the future.  California plans to permit immigrants to get driver’s licenses with out proof that they are in the US legally.


Upcoming Events (listed by date):



  1. Thanks for the tip about the edX-Google partnership. Lots of activity in the space now, an perhaps some of it will be coordinated. I’d like to see more links to international universities. Perhaps this will come through the Open Education Alliance eventually.



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