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: Public View of Congress; Budget Deals, Budget Impact; Farm Bill.
  • ADMINISTRATION & Independent Agencies:  Nominations, Confirmations & Departures; DARPA & Life Sciences.
  • COURTS: Campus Speech; EPA & RFS; Keystone XL Pipeline.

Noteworthy News: MOOCs abroad; International Students; Basic Skills; Value of College; Global Learning; Nuclear Shortage; Nuclear Bad News; Online Ed Profit Warnings; Laureate Education; Sonar & Whales; and Point of No Return.

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

Capitol News.  


  • Congress vs. Horrible Things.  Americans really don’t like Congress.  A recent poll found that more Americans think more favorably of toenail fungus, hemorrhoids, dog poop, jury duty, Wall Street, witches, cockroaches, the IRS, potholes, DMV, and zombies than Congress.  But, Congress should not feel completely disheartened as most Americans polled still held Congress in higher esteem than Charles Manson, twerking, Lindsey Lohan, and the Ebola virus.
  • Budget Deals.  At the time of publication, Congress had not yet reached a deal despite the on-going shutdown and impending deadline for the US government reaching its debt limit.  The Senate’s attempt to vote on a bill that simply raises the debt limit through 2014 (past the election) without policy riders failed on a procedural move (cloture).  The House passed piecemeal budget bills knowing they were DOA at the Senate. (Notably, the Senate Democrats have tried moving forward with a budget conference for months, but could not get past procedural hurdles erected by the Republicans).  The answer to whether a clean continuing resolution together with a clean bill to raise the debt limit, something the President is demanding before negotiating, can pass will need to wait, but I will keep you posted.
  • Budget Impact. Federal Policy Week has discussed the impacts of the shutdown (see The Shutdown), but as it continues, more reports pour in on both anticipated and unanticipated effects.  Higher education is beginning to feel an impact, especially as some research and scheduled conferences have been postponed. If the debt limit deadline passes without a resolution, student loan programs, previously expected to escape the shutdown unscathed, may be shutdown, and Defense has already suspended its tuition-assistance program.  Federal researchers, including Nobel Prize winners, at many agencies are at home not conducting research. Other casualties include NSF’s Antarctic research program, closing of humanities research facilities, including the Library of Congress and National Archives, most research and public access to the Smithsonian.  During the shutdown, activities once thought essential are on hold.  For example, EPA is not measuring effluents or contaminants, FAA airplane safety inspectors (the work is being done by the airlines), and the James Webb telescope is on hold (after years of delay). The federal government stopped issuing permits for oil and gas drilling on public lands. Websites for many science agencies, including NSF, NIST, NOAA, and NASA remain shutdown.  Interior Secretary Jewell agreed to allow states pay to open and manage select national parks and most DOE workers at the national labs are still on the job.  NRC, which remained open until it’s funding ran out, will stop non-emergency activities, such as licensing, reviewing of plant designs or issuance of any rules.
  • Farm Bill. The US House held multiple votes to move to conference and conferees (17 Republicans and 12 Democrats) were appointed.  Now the House and Senate conferees must hash out the significant differences between the two bills, most notably the funding levels for the nutrition programs (see Federal Policy Week posting Moving Ahead), authorization period, and conservation compliance, especially as the American Farm Bureau Federation reneges on its promise to support conservation compliance linkage to certain farm payments, a move strongly supported by House Republicans.  Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of Senators is advocating for the end of direct agriculture payments.

Administration & Independent Agencies:

Nominations, Confirmations & Departures.

  • Environment.  The Administration’s senior environment and climate advisor, Heather Zichal, is leaving.  Expect Obama to appoint someone from within the White House to the position.
  • Weapons Expert.  The Administration’s top weapons expert and Deputy Secretary of Defense, Ashton Carter, is departing the Department of Defense.

DARPA & Life SciencesDARPA, a defense agency whose mission embraces high-risk research, has its eye on increasing funding for biotechnology research.  Several DARPA programs, including the Living Foundries program, which provides funding for traditional life sciences fields, including biofuels and medicines, and DARPA’s participation in the BRAIN Initiative (see postings Budget Battles and the President’s Budget) and for more on the BRAIN Initiative) highlight this direction, although


  • Campus Speech. The Supreme Court declined to take up two decisions relating to campus speech, allowing the appeals courts’ decisions stand.  More specifically, the court rulings upheld a university’s firing of an administrator who used anti-gay speech (Crystal Dixon v. University of Toledo) and allowed student journalists to present evidence involving a university’s violation of free speech (Ed Ray v. OSU Student Alliance).
  • EPA & RFS. In an expected move, the American Petroleum Institute filed a lawsuit challenging EPA’s RFS volume requirements for 2013 for the cellulosic, biomass-based diesel, advanced biofuel and total renewable fuel mandate. The ultimate goal is to reach 36 billion gallons in 2022.  In the meantime, rumors are rampant that EPA may actual reduce the RFS goal for 2014 from 18.15-billion gallon down to 15.21 billion gallons.
  • Keystone XL Pipeline.  A federal appeals court allows construction of the Keystone XL pipeline at the southern end.  Several environmental groups are suing the Army Corp of Engineers to halt construction of the pipeline sued for an injunction to halt construction pending a final decision on their suit.


  • MOOCs AbroadCoursera and edX, two major online course providers, plan to expand abroad, including to China and France.
  • Increased InternationalsBritish Council’s recently released report finds that the US will remain the top destination for international students (the UK will be second).  The number of students expected to “be mobile” is predicted to go up from 3.04 million to 3.85 million.  As China continues to invest and improve its universities, more Chinese students that studied abroad are expected to stay in China.  However, China and India will remain the main source of foreign students, and students from other countries studying abroad are expected to increase.
  • Basic Skills.  Alarming, but perhaps not surprising, survey (Survey of Adult Skills) results show American adults have basic literacy (16th our of 23) and numeracy (21st out of 23) skills that are below average on a global scale.  They finished 14 out of 23rd for problem solving in technology-rich environments. These results come even as Americans often have more formal education. The OECD survey found that minority (black and Hispanic) adults’ skills were even lower on average than white Americans and a stronger correlation to socioeconomic background in the US than any other nation.
  • Value of College.  The debate rages on over the real value of college.  The College Board’s latest report found again that a college education pays off (65% greater than HS graduates over a 40 year working life). While the earning potential gap between those with a college degree and those with a HS degree narrowed in recent years, college graduates still have an earnings advantage, as well as other benefits like health insurance, pensions, and job satisfaction.
  • Global Learning.  More colleges and universities embrace education models that incorporate global learning directly into their curricula.  A recent conference addressed the best practices and models for integrating global objectives into the core curriculum.
  • Nuclear Shortage.  According to GAO report, the supply of lithium that the majority of US reactors rely on is running low.  The lithium in question comes from Russia and China, where the lithium in question is still produced (the US stopped producing the lithium in the early 1960s and the supply has almost run out).  According to the report, it would take approximately $10 million and 5 years for the US to produce lithium again.
  • Nuclear Bad News.  The nuclear renaissance seems on hold as nuclear industry continues as it faces increased competition from low natural gas prices.  Moreover, the structure of pricing used by the electricity market, which favors energy generators that having varied energy supplies (like solar, coal and wind) because they are paid varying amounts over the day.
  • Online Ed Profit Warnings.  Several faculty groups that comprise The Campaign for the Future of Higher Education issued a report examining the potential downfalls of universities embracing private technology companies and online education programs as a means of increasing access to higher education (and potentially profits).
  • Laureate Education.  The private for-profit US-based system Laureate Education, which has 800,000 students in its global system, that has invested in Coursera and recently received $150 million from the World Bank’s IFCInside Higher Ed provides a look at the history, controversy, reach, and ambitions of Laureate.
  • Sonar and Whales.  An independent review panel established by the International Whaling Commission found that a widely used sonar technology (MBES) by energy companies is most likely responsible for the stranding of whales (at least a recent case in Madagascar).  As expected the oil company involved in the stranding rejected the conclusion.  If the conclusions are accepted, the implications for energy exploration (and possibly even naval exercises) could be far-reaching.
  • Point of No Return.  According to a report published in Nature, the point of no return for global temperatures is 2047, given “business as usual.” For New York City the year is 2047, 2029 for Jakarta, 2046 for Beijing, and 2056 for London.  With some major cities reaching the turning point within 20 years, the report stresses the need for immediate actions. If actions are taken, the turning point can be delayed approximately 20 years.


Upcoming Events (listed by date):



  1. That is the funniest header I have ever read!! Love the context — what about fingernails on a chalk board? dryer lint? 🙂

    Hope you guys are well!


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