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:
Congressional, Administrative, Courts
- CONGRESS: Budget Deals, Nutrition Bill, House Ag Committee, HEA Reauthorization, Science Laureate, Energy Bills, Keystone XL, Helium, Patents, Immigration, Congressional Hearings & Markups.
- Administration & independent agencies: Nominations, Confirmations & Departures; NIH Brain Research; Sticks & Stones; Energy Loans; Power Plants, University E&D; Antibiotics; Clean Water Act; Coral Reefs & Climate; Nuclear Waste
- COURTS: COOL, Chesapeake Bay
Noteworthy News: Sequester & Science; Teens & College; Measuring Colleges by Salaries; Coal Exports; College Funding & Student Outcomes; Fracking; Antarctica; Communication Skills; Social Sciences; MOOC; College Admissions; Drilling Public Lands; Mental Health; Spoiled Soil; Tuition Pact; International Education; SAT High Scores; Redshirting
In the Know: A Preview of Upcoming Events in DC.
- Budget Deals. House Republicans passed a temporary funding bill that includes provisions to defund Obamacare. The bill, which Senate Democrats have made clear that the bill is DOA. The Senate will send a bill back to the House that removes the continues the funding, but Speaker Boehner (R-OH) plans to amend it and sending it back to the Senate, and with time running out (October 1, 2013 deadline before the CR expires), it is likely another short term CR will be passed. Senate Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) announced the Senate CR will only provide funding until November 15, putting pressure on Members to finalize a deal or risk losing Thanksgiving recess. Budget battles will continue with the upcoming debt limit fight, the next CR extension and future spending bills impacted by sequester.
- Nutrition Bill. The House passed 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 (and USDA) oppose these extensive cuts, as do many religious and food bank groups.
- House Agriculture Committee. National Journal has special report on the House Agriculture Committee and its Members. The report covers key members and issues of the Committee.
- Higher Education Act. Senate HELP Committee began work on reauthorizing the Higher Education Act, with a plan to hold 11 fact-finding hearings over the next few months. Many hurdles, including other legislation, differences of approaches by Chairman Harkin (D-IA) and Ranking Member Alexander (R-TN), as well as the traditional delays in passing HEA reauthorization remain. If you are particularly interested in following HEA reauthorization, The Chronicle of Higher Education has a “need to know” article worth exploring.
- Science Laureate Bill. As mentioned in the Federal Policy Week posting Immigration: Fits and Starts… the House introduced a bill to create a “science laureate.” Now, that bill is being pulled from the House as conservative republicans revolted since it would provide another avenue for a science-based voice to present views unfavorable to their agenda.
- Energy Bills. As mentioned in Federal Policy Week post The Perpetual Morass, Senator Vitter delayed debate and votes on several bipartisan energy bills. Now those bills are on temporary hold until after Congress finishes work on the CR.
- Keystone XL. The Senate is expected to take up debate on the Keystone XL Pipeline in the near future, reports USA TODAY. However even some of its Democratic Senate supporters (i.e. Senators Begich (AK), Baucus (MT) and Manchin (WV)) are opposing efforts to attach the pipeline approval to debt ceiling legislation, reports Bloomberg. The State Department has not yet released its environmental review of the project.
- Helium. The Senate passed legislation to preserve the Federal Helium Program managed by BLM, in order to preserve helium resources (there aren’t sufficient private sources). Helium is not only used in party balloons, but also MRI machines, at medical facilities and for scientific research. The House had already passed its version of the bill and the Senate agreed to some amendments and the bill will now be sent to the President.
- Patents. Congress is moving forward with new patent legislation. A major focus continues to be on “patent trolls.” And Congress, lead by Senate Judiciary Chairman Leahy (D-VT) and House Judiciary Chairman Goodlatte (R-VA) to no surprise is using this issue to make more (misguided) changes to the patent laws. Goodlatte’s most recent revision of his patent bill moves to remove the current language in post-grant review. By removing the “could have raised language,” a move receiving ill-advised support form IPO, small inventors and universities are losing a major tool and one of few favorable terms they negotiated in the America Invents Act (universities were some of the biggest losers of that bill). At the same time, other major companies are opposing expansion of the “covered business method patent” program in legislation.
- Immigration. While budget issues are front and center, immigration issues remain in sight. House Republicans, in an effort to appear interested are reaching out to Latino groups, indicating their intention to take up immigration bills (although still in a piecemeal, non-comprehensive manner). The House bills are in conflict with the already-passed Senate legislation. House Democrats continue to work on a comprehensive approach, but being the minority party in the House means they face significant obstacles. And, efforts are more complicated as the bipartisan “Gang of Seven” in the House appears to be hemorrhaging Republicans. While all parties appear to favor improved immigration by highly-skilled and educated foreigners, much of the debate focuses on whether to provide a path for citizenship for immigrants already in the US.
Notable Congressional Hearings & Mark Ups (past & future):
- Senate Energy: Bills to address Transboundary Hydrocarbon Agreements, October 1, 2013
- House Education: Keeping College in Reach, October 1, 2013
Administration & Independent Agencies:
- Nominations, Confirmations, and Departures. The Senate confirmed Krysta Harden as Deputy Secretary of USDA
- NIH Brain Research Priorities. As mentioned in the FEDERAL POLICY WEEK posting The Perpetual Morass, the interim report of the BRAIN Working Group’s high-priority research areas for NIH FY 2014 funding was presented to the Advisory Committee to the NIH Director (ACD). Director Collins announced the initial areas of high-priority for the NIH portion of the BRAIN Initiative funding. Some activities include: generate a census of brain cell types; create structural maps of the brain; and develop new, large-scale neural network recording capabilities. For more details, see this New York Times article.
- Sticks and Stones. ED Secretary Duncan attacks critics of the Departments college-rating proposal, calling their criticism “more than a little silly,” reports The Chronicle of Higher Education. Duncan urged detractors (probably justified) to wait to see the details before attacking the plan he appears certain will improve the existing federal loan system.
- Energy Loans. Remember Solyndra? DOE is now using the clean energy loan program to help a broader set of energy sources, including more traditional fuel sectors, like coal and oil. As The New York Times reports, skeptics, even supporters of fossil fuels, remain skeptical. While Solyndra was a bust, other sectors have prospered using the loan program (Tesla for example).
- Power Plant Standards. EPA released new power plant standards for new plants. The new standards are part of the Obama Administration’s Climate Action Plan. Under the new standards, “new large natural gas-fired turbines would need to meet a limit of 1,000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour, while new small natural gas-fired turbines would need to meet a limit of 1,100 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour. New coal-fired units would need to meet a limit of 1,100 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour, and would have the option to meet a somewhat tighter limit if they choose to average emissions over multiple years, giving those units additional operational flexibility.” Several states are already planning on challenging the new rules. And, as expected, so are Republicans in Congress. Meanwhile, EPA Administrator McCarthy and Energy Secretary Moniz assured House Republicans that there is still a future for coal and coal-fired power plants.
- University R&D. According to a report released by NSF, 4.9 percent of universities R&D in FY2011 came from businesses. Of those funds, 39% went to medical sciences and 26% to engineering. At the same time, NSF reports that federal funding for research in FY2011 dropped by nine percent from FY2010.
- CDC – Antibiotic Resistance. A CDC report, Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States, 2013, reports that every year at least 23,000 Americans dies (and over 2 million are ill) from antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The report states, “[i]n addition to the toll on human life, antibiotic-resistant infections add considerable and avoidable costs to the already overburdened U.S. health care system. Studies have estimated that, in the United States, antibiotic resistance adds $20 billion in excess direct health care costs, with additional costs to society for lost productivity as high as $35 billion a year. The use of antibiotics is the single most important factor leading to antibiotic resistance. Up to 50 percent of all the antibiotics prescribed for people are not needed or are not prescribed appropriately.” The report also addresses antibiotic use in production animals (which is used prophylactically and increased because of inhumane and cramped conditions).
- Clean Water Act. The EPA and Army Corps of Engineers proposed a rule meant to clarify the application of the CWA on small seasonal waterways. As The Washington Post reports, EPA also simultaneously released “a report that concluded that streams have important effects on downstream waterways regardless of their size or how often they flow. Wetlands and open waters in flood plains have similar effects. The report synthesized the results of 1,000 scientific, peer reviewed studies.” While environmental groups welcomed the report results, Republican members were much less enthused.
- Coral Reefs and Climate. The National Marine Fisheries Service agreed to develop a recovery plan for several Florida and Caribbean corals in response to a suit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity. This agreement makes the corals, which are endangered (under new classification agreed to in settlement) from global warming and ocean acidification. The agreed to plan, which is expected in 2014, requires NMFS to address the causes of ocean warming, which means global warming, but it is not clear what NMFS will do.
- NRC – Waste. NRC released a proposed rule “waste confidence” – an analysis of the environmental impacts of on-site waste storage, and asked for public comment on its findings. The last rule was vacated by a federal court. To the consternation of environmental groups and states, the analysis found that waste could be safely stored at sites for 60 years after the cessation of operations. It also assumes that a permanent waste facility will be built in the next 60 years.
- COOL. Efforts to delay the Country of Origin Labeling regulations hit a setback when the US District Court for DC allowed USDA to continue implementing regulations. Fighting over COOL, which splits the agriculture community, goes back more than a decade when proponents worked to include it in the 2002 Farm Bill. While originally applying to meat, later amendments included other agriculture products.
- Chesapeake Bay. A US District Court judge ruled that EPA may move ahead with its plans to reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay under the Clean Water Act, reports The Washington Post. Under the plan, EPA intends to cut pollution from sewers, construction, and most importantly, farms.
- Sequester and Science. How does the sequester impact science? A new effort “How Sequester is Hurting Science” (following a report in Huffington Post) hopes to clearly explain, explores the (devastating) impact with detailed examples of the effects on federally-funded projects and scientific efforts.
- Teens & College. A new report by Ascend at the Aspen Institute finds that teens believe attending and graduating from college is critical for success, but worry about costs, reports Inside Higher Ed. Mothers questioned for the report agreed that getting an education and graduating from college was important.
- Measuring Colleges by Salaries. A new group, PayScale, has introduced a program to rank colleges, by graduates’ salaries. As reported in The New York Times, PayScale rankings do not always line up well with traditional ratings reports, especially true for smaller liberal arts colleges whose rankings plummet in the PayScale lists. According to the website the date for Payscale comes from “both employee (incumbent) data through the PayScale Salary Survey and employer data from surveys that we administer on behalf of trade associations.” Not surprisingly, engineering schools rank highly (but the order of those schools seems questionable).
- Coal Exports. US coal producers hopes to make up lost income from the surge in natural gas through increased exports, are lowering expectations, reports The New York Times. The companies are finding that international coal prices don’t support exports, especially as China’s demand is “softening.”
- College Funding and Student Outcomes Tying. In new approach, Texas will award state funding for technical schools based on students salaries once they leave the system (take at least three courses), reports The Chronicle (many other states, like Tennessee tie funding to student outcomes, but not salary). How this turns out may impact federal policy makers approach to loans and funding for colleges and universities. Under the system, the system will get $0.26 for each dollar the students make over the minimum wage, based on five-year average. At the same time a recent study by the Education Policy Center found that “there is still no compelling evidence that awarding state money based on outcomes has a big effect on student performance, the researchers conclude,” reports The Chronicle.
- Fracking. A new study from the University of Texas, sponsored by EDF and several petroleum companies, found that, while significant methane release from fracking was less than EPA estimates. The report states, “Possible causes of the overestimate include the assumptions in the estimation method that the entire well bore volume is released in an unloading and that the gas flow during an unloading is continuous.” The report also finds that regulations have contributed to reduced methane emissions.
- Antarctica. An editorial in The New York Times criticizes the latest efforts (or significantly reduced efforts) to create a marine reserve in Antarctica. Specifically, the editorial states “All this has led the staunchest supporters of the original 875,000-square-mile proposal — chiefly the United States and New Zealand — to do exactly the wrong thing. Instead of going into the next month’s meeting in Hobart, Australia, with renewed determination, the two countries announced last week that they would agree to shrink the proposed reserves by 40 percent, in the belief that something is better than nothing.”
- Communication Skills. In a non-surprising result, most Americans and employers want college graduates “who can think critically and creatively, and can communicate orally and in writing,” reports The Chronicle. The public opinion survey results showed Americans believe a college degree is important, but colleges are not doing a great job preparing students for work.
- Social Science. Social Science research (funded through NSF, NIH and other federal agencies) is under constant attack by conservatives in Congress who question its value. As reported in the Federal Policy Week postings A Very Bad Bill, Congress Finishes Recess, and Sequester Looming, bills have been introduced and opinion pieces written attacking social science funding. The last CR included serious restrictions on NSF’s SBE funding (see Hurry Up posting for NSF’s response to the restrictions). The Association of American Universities issued at letter against those cuts.
- MOOC. MIT, a key partner in edX, plans to provide a more cohesive set of courses and edX plans to roll out completion certificates, Inside Higher Ed reports. This approach will provide a good test for how well online courses can educate participants, as well as the value of a certificate.
- College Admissions. According to a survey by Inside Higher Ed of Admissions Directors, nearly 60 percent reported that they failed to meet admission goals as of May 1. Almost three-quarters were “very” or “moderately concerned” about meeting their targets. The survey also explores hot button issues like use of race or ethnicity in admissions, use of international recruiting agents, and ranking systems.
- Drilling on Federal Public Lands. BLM’s intention to open public lands for drilling in previously untouched areas has created angst and bad feelings among environmental groups determined to prevent such activities, reports The New York Times.
- Student Mental Health. A recent study “Blind Spot: The Impact of Missed Early Warning Signs on Children’s Mental Health,” found that children’s mental health issues are not being addressed. As described in The Washington Post, the ramifications of not addressing and servicing mental health issues are profound, including a strong connection between school failure and unaddressed issues. Most children with mental issues showed signs of problems very early in their education, although most problems are not identified until middle school.
- Spoiled Soil? While most corn (and other crops) grown in the US is GMO, the pesticides that accompany those crops are giving some farmers (and scientists) concern. Specifically, the use of glyphosate (and now extensive use as resistance builds over time) appears to be impacting the soil farmers depend on for their crops. The New York Times covers the growing controversy.
- Tuition Pact. There are now 54 colleges and universities in the “Say Yes Higher Education Compact,” with the recent addition of 11 more private schools. As part of the pact, universities agree to waive tuition for eligible students (at-risk students).
- International Education. One of the potential casualties of the budget cuts may be US AID’s higher ed partnerships: Higher Education for Development. According to The Chronicle, the operating budget for the Partnership may be cut by nearly 80% (from $4.9 million to $1 million), which will make it difficult to manage the projects. The article contends that the cuts were unexpected and the program is struggling to find funding to continue its projects (which involve almost 100 institutions in 25 countries).
- Higher Ed for High Scorers. The College Board initiated a program to encourage high school economically disadvantaged seniors who do well on the SAT to apply for admission at more selective colleges, reports The New York Times. The students receive information on schools and application fee waivers to six colleges of the student’s choice.
- Redshirting. A new study found that “redshirting” for kindergarten is less common than previous thought. The study found a delay rate of approximately four percent, as opposed to other reports of 5- 19 %. Of course, the rate varies by location (and likely by parents’ income).
IN THE KNOW: EVENTS TO CONSIDER
Upcoming Events (listed by date):