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; COMPETES Act; Farm Bill; Energy Bills; Patents; Immigration; Banks & College Deals; Congressional Hearings & Markups.

Administration & independent agencies: R&D funding; RFS; Moniz & UN Climate; FDA Ban; Race & Admissions; EPA Sessions.

COURTS: Supreme Court Docket; EPA Rules

Noteworthy News: In-house Technology; Energy 2023; Gender Gaps; Commercial Space; Accreditation; Foreign Languages; STEM; Loan Defaults; American Dream; SMRs; Liberal Arts; Keystone XL; Hanford; Humanities Graduates; Video Contest

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

Capitol News.  


  • Budget Deals. As the shutdown continues, it appears likely that the Congress will combine a continuing funding bill (aka CR) with a bill to increase the debt limit, which our country will reach this October 17. (The Federal Policy Week posting The Shutdown provides some background information on the costs and impacts of the shutdown), an approach Senate Republicans appear to embrace. What the deal will look like remains unknown, but Speaker Boehner has made two promises: to not let the Country go into default and to extract something for allowing the debt limit to increase.
  • COMPETES. Several Federal Policy Week postings have discussed efforts by Republican Members of Congress to defund or cripple funding for the social sciences.  The posting A Very Bad Bill, discussed a draft bill (“High Quality Research Act” or HQRA) by House Republicans that would essential rewrite peer review, as part of the House Science Committee’s efforts to reauthorize the COMPETE Act (which originally brought ARPA-E and increased funding for scientific agencies). The House Science Committee appears on the verge of introducing the reauthorized COMPETE Act, that may contain a version of the HQRA.
  • Farm Bill. The House voted to join their version of the farm (agriculture) and nutrition bills into one bill and sent it to the Senate.  The Senate responded by rejecting the House bill and appointing conferees, a move that will allow the House and Senate to officially meet and work on ironing out differences in their respective bills.  The differences are significant, as the House bill cuts $40 bill from food stamps, 10 times more than the Senate.
  • Energy Bills As mentioned in prior posts, including Budget Battles, bipartisan energy efficiency bills are on hold because of Senator Vitter’s (R-LA) extraneous demands. The sponsors, including Senators Shaheen (D-NH) and Portman (R-OH), are working to revive the stalled bills.  Meanwhile, Senator Murkowski, the Ranking Member of the Senate Energy Committee, criticized other Senators, including Republicans, for holding up the bill on the Senate floor.
  • Patents.  The House and Senate Judiciary Committees may not agree on much, but their drive to change the patent system unites them.  Both House Chairman Goodlatte (R-VA) and Senate Chairman Leahy (D-VT) are now going after patent trolls.  The bills also include revisions to the America Invents Act.
  • Immigration.  While the House Republicans slowly review hearings on immigration legislation, House Democrats introduced their own immigration legislation, with hopes that it will spur the Republican members to act.  The Democrats legislation mirrors the legislation passed by the Senate earlier this year, but includes the House border security language instead of the border security language in the Senate-passed bill.
  • Banks and College Deals. Several Members of Congress are exploring the connection between banks and higher education institutions, and arrangements that give them access to the students (including their debit accounts).  Democrats in the House and Senate sent a letter to several major financial institutions asking for information on their deals with these institutions. College Costs and College Share.  Senator Warren (D-MA) is leading an effort to have the federal government encourage states to increase funding for public education.  Simultaneously, she wants institutions of higher education to have greater responsibility for limiting student debt.

Notable Congressional Hearings & Mark Ups:

With the government shutdown, few Committees are holding or scheduling hearings or meetings.

Administration & Independent Agencies:

  • R&D Funding: NSF released data showing a decrease in federal support by nine percent for R&D from FY2010 to FY 2011.  The drop from $64B to $58B was attributed to end of the funding boost in the stimulus bill.  Prior to the current shutdown and issues around the CR, funding was expected to increase by three percent (to $60B) in FY2013.
  • Renewable Fuel Standard.  Another apparent casualty of the government shutdown includes the release of 2014 targets for the renewable fuel standard (RFS).  While on furlough, EPA employees cannot work on finalizing the new RFS targets, which were due by the end of November.  The target numbers will be released eventually, although not necessarily “on time.”
  • Sec. Moniz on UN Climate Reports Secretary Moniz believes the case for the President’s climate action plan is supported by the recent UN Climate report finding that people are the main drivers of climate change. The report, which some criticized for being too conservative and cautious (see posting The Perpetual Morass) concludes that the weather will continue to be impacted by carbon emissions and finds with at least a 95% certainty that the main driver of warming are human activities.  The report also embraces a ceiling on emissions.
  • FDA Ban. In an effort to reduce arsenic in food, FDA removed three drugs from the market.  One of the drugs was already off the market and the manufacturers had asked to have the other two removed when it was determined that the drugs caused excessive amounts of arsenic in chicken and pigs (the arsenic, which enters the environment through animal waste that is used directly as fertilizer or contaminates the water which is used for growing crops, also remains in certain organs).  The drugs, which were in animal feed, were used to increase growth, feed efficiency, and prevent disease.
  • Race and Admissions.  ED and Justice jointly announced in the document “Questions and Answers about Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin,” that colleges may continue including race as a factor in decision-making, if done in a manner that meets a compelling interest for diversity on campus, and in effect does not change anything.
  • EPA Carbon Power Plant – Listening SessionsEPA will hold 11 listening sessions to solicit input on the best approaches for addressing carbon pollution from existing power plants.  EPA has jurisdiction to regulate emissions from plants under the Clean Air Act.  EPA plans to release a proposal in June 2014, at which time it will solicit additional public input.


  • Supreme Court Docket.  The Supreme Court has a heavy load this year with a docket full of cases that could potentially overturn long-held court precedents.  Many fear that the conservative justices will use this term to undermine protections for women’s choice, affirmative action, campaign contributions, and public prayer.  The Court will consider whether voters in Michigan were allowed to ban the use of race in admissions through a referendum.
  • EPA.  It is widely expected that the Court will take on a case to review EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gases.  I will keep you posted!


  • In-House Technology.  More colleges are creating in-house education technology incubators that they are hoping will be profitable and involve students and faculty, reports The Chronicle.  The education start-up company incubators are coming on the heels of the start-ups in different fields.  Universities are looking to cash-in on actually creating or consulting for education-focused companies, instead of simply doing the research and publishing it.
  • Energy 2023.  What will the energy world look like in the year 2023?  Ten years ago, it was considered highly unlikely that the US would be an oil exporter, but now the US is close to being energy independent, so what lies ahead could include a world of more natural gas, solar and wind (and other renewables).  The New York Times explores the possibilities.
  • Gender Gap in Academia.  Why does a gender gap continue in academia?  The Washington Post explores the possibilities. They include women being the primary caretakers of children: Studies have found that women without children are more successful in academia, for instance.  Another contributor is our inherent (or taught) social structures, which encourage men (who are the main decision-makers) to socialize primarily with men.  So when men look for colleagues to collaborate with, recommend for talks, books, or prices, they often first go their own social circles, which predominantly include men.  Of course, there are very successful women with kids in academia, but apparently, they are the exception.
  • Commercial Space Industry.  The commercial space industry is here to stay and their rockets and spacecraft are being successfully prepared and launched.  Further, NASA depends on their success, as transporters of cargo (and potentially astronauts in the future) to the ISS (the NASA site is down at time of publication) and other activities.
  • Accreditation.  A recent report from a former president of The University of Colorado lays out the argument against the existing national and regional accreditation system, an argument supported by many conservatives.  The author contends that the system fails to protect students, the federal investment, and empowers weak regulators of academic quality.  He further advocates for delinking accreditation and federal financial aid and a mandatory release of data on student debt and graduation income, as well as encouraging diverse college missions.
  • Foreign Language Instruction.  At a recent conference called “Languages For All,” professors and other professionals concluded that citizens having a second language are essential for our Nation and individuals so they can communicate and participate in the global marketplace.  A premise of the event was that technology can be utilized by schools (including higher education), industry and the government to ensure that students become competent in a second language.
  • Students and STEM.  A recent study found that students (at least white and Asian students) desire to major in STEM fields is heavily correlated to early exposure to math and science, which allows them to develop an interest and appreciation of these fields.  However, for minority students it appears that success in math and science is a more significant driver of intent to pursue STEM fields.  We will see if federal policy makers will take this into account as they reauthorize ESEA.
  • Student-Loan Default Rates.  In an alarming trend (for the sixth year), a larger percentage of student loan borrowers are defaulting within two years of the time they begin repayments.  For those who started repaying loans for the fiscal year 2011, the default rate was 10 percent.  ED uses default rates to determine institution eligibility for federal student aid (if the default rate at an institution exceeds 40% in a single year or 25% for three years in a row, the students can’t get federal student aid to use at that institution).
  • Small Modular ReactorsNuclear power is here to stay according to Energy Secretary Moniz.  However, the power is more likely to come from small modular reactors (SMRs) instead of the traditional larger reactors.  A SMR DOE is funding is expected to be constructed and running by 2022.  The push for SMRs comes from the belief that they are more cost-effective and potentially safer than traditional reactors.
  • Liberal Arts Campaign.  In an effort to promote liberal arts colleges (the value of which many people are questioning as they push for STEM education and job-friendly majors), the Council of Independent Colleges created an online campaign to show the value of a liberal arts education.  The site provides data and testimonials extolling the virtues of a liberal arts education.
  • Keystone XL Pipeline.  A major campaign by Obama supporters is underway to try and convince the President to reject the Keystone XL Pipeline.  The campaign exposes the betrayal that many former Obama supporters feel toward the President and his policies on the environment.  The State Department, which must approve the project, is still conducting its environmental assessment of the pipeline and mixed messages from the Administration means the final decision of whether to approve the pipeline remains elusive.
  • Hanford Nuclear Weapons Site.  Clean up at Hanford has been notoriously slow and expensive and a new report by the DOE Inspector General (IG) is certain to raise concern, cause delays and increase costs.  According to the IG, the contractor Bechtel that is charged with building the waste-treatment plant failed to provide an adequate quality assurance regime.
  • Humanities Majors and Jobs.  Breaking the long taboo, more departments and professors are working to expose humanities students, especially doctoral students, to employment options outside of academia.  Several societies, including the Modern Language Association and the American Historical Association, have lead the effort to provide career options for their doctoral students. These efforts help to break the cycle of relegating graduates who don’t pursue academic careers to being characterized as second-rate.
  • Video Contest.  Want to help influence the public and policy makers and win some money to boot.  Enter the FASEB video contest “Stand Up for ScienceI” which has the goal of creating a video to show Americans how federally-funded research is critical to bio-related R&D.
  • Education and the American Dream.  A recent Washington Post-Miller Center Poll found that fewer believe attending college is a significant aspect of the American Dream (down from 68% in 1986 to 52% in 2013).  Some other key findings including that more than three-quarters of Americans believe it has become increasingly harder to pay for college, only 39% of Americans think their children can expect to enjoy a higher standard of living, and most Americans (more than six out of 10) fear losing their jobs.


Upcoming Events (listed by date):




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