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; Shutdown Impact; Water Infrastructure; House Republicans on Science Committee; Honesty in Politicians; Drilling Pact; Congressional Hearings & Markups.

Administration & Independent Agencies:  Obama’s To Do List; EPA & RFS

COURTS: EPA & Climate; Affirmative Action; and Sea Lions.

Noteworthy News: $10,000 Degrees; Endowments; Renewable Energy; Sports; Online Courses; HS to College; Energy Puzzles, Multiple Thinking; Poorer Public Schools; Student Loan Troubles; European MOOCs; Unwanted Exposure; Online at Issue; GED Thresholds; Nuclear Plant Inspections; Mandatory Tutoring.

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

Capitol News.  


  • Budget Deals. The leaders of the budget conference committee (see Federal Policy Week posting The Big Deal) have already met as the try to broker a deal prior to the December 13, 2013 deadline to the resolve government funding debacle by providing a top-line budget number that can be used to produce legislation prior to the end of the CR funding bill on January 15, 2014.  The four conference leaders are House Budget Chairman Ryan (R-WI) and Ranking Member Van Hollen (D-MD) and Senate Budget Chairwoman Murray (D-WA) and Ranking Member Sessions (R-AL). Meanwhile, special interest groups prepare themselves to lobby Conference Members to protect their constituents from potential cuts that may come out of the budget deal.
  • Shutdown Impact. Federal Policy Week has discussed the impacts of the shutdown (see The Shutdown & other posts) which temporarily ended just days ago.  According to several sources, the cost of the shutdown are long-term, some calculating it cost the country billions while threatening growth, employment and costs and revenues of businesses.  For academia, the shutdown interfered with research and education programs, including access to federal labs, museums, and military tuition programs.
  • Water Infrastructure.  A bill that often slips from public view, but has major implications for federal projects is expected to get a vote in the House.  The Senate has already passed its version of the Water Resources and Development Act (WRDA).  The bill always carries some controversy as it frequently includes members’ pet projects for water projects (like dams and levees) that can cause environmental harm.
  • House Republicans on Science Committee. In recent years, the Republican members of the House Science Committee appear to have grown more conservative (and more partisan).  As opined in Science magazine, recent votes on the budget matters reveal that Committee members are disproportionately voting more conservatively than the House Republican caucus, which does not bode well for science funding.
  • Honesty of Politicians. How honest are politicians? Depends how comfortable you are with bending the truth.  A National Journal article explores Senator Paul’s (R-KY) propensity to knowing “spread misinformation.” He proudly did so in medical school to disadvantage his classmates, and continues to spread information (often to willing audiences) as her continues his career in the Senate.
  • Drilling Pact. The Senate recently passed a bill, the 2012 US-Mexico Transboundary Hyrdrocarbons Agreement so the two nations have a legal framework under which to pursue drilling in the Gulf of Mexico along shared boundaries. It also opens new areas of the continental shelf to drilling. Now the Senate and House need to reconcile their bills.

Notable Congressional Hearings & Mark Ups: With the recent shutdown, few Committees have hearings schedule, and only limited hearings on topic for Federal Policy Week.

Administration & Independent Agencies:

  • Obama’s Near-Term Goals:  In wake of the re-opening of the government, President Obama laid out a few goals for (Congress) the near term.  These include a budget, a farm bill and an immigration bill – all tall tasks in this political environment (although the farm bill, now in conference, has a more realistic chance than an immigration bill).
  • EPA & RFS.  As reported in the Federal Policy Week posting Toenail Fungus…, rumors continue to swirl on the RFS levels for 2014, but EPA Administrator McCarthy said that no decision has been made on the proposed 2014 RFS.


  • EPA & Climate.  As reported in the Federal Policy Week posting Moving Ahead…, most Supreme Court observers expected the court to review EPA’s authority to issue rules on green house gas emissions, and the Court has done just that.  The Court will hear the case early in 2014.
  • Affirmative Action.  The Supreme Court heard arguments in a case on the Michigan voter referendum banning race-conscious college admissions.  As expected, questioning and comments by the Justices ran down ideological lines, with the conservative justices and swing vote Justice Kennedy indicating that they are likely to uphold the ban.
  • Sea Lions. A federal court upheld (again) the NMFS’s plan to protect some endangered Steller sea lions (and science) by limiting commercial fishing in Alaska.  The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an effort to re-examine the plan, which it earlier found grounded in science.


  • $10,000 Degrees.  As discussed in the previous posting Holding Our Breath, both Florida and Texas embraced the $10,000 BA/BS (total cost), but there appears to be little interest in Florida or Texas. Uptake is going slowly, as there are only offered at a few non-flagship schools, in limited majors, and often with more strenuous requirements (like GPAs and graduating).
  • Endowments.  Higher education endowments appear to frequently adjust policies and spending levels according to a National Bureau of Economic Research report, The Interaction of Spending Policies, Asset Allocation Strategies, and Investment Performance at University Endowment Funds.  As an example, the report found that “half of the endowments revised their rules at least once and, on average, about a quarter of the sample changed their spending policies each year, implying a retention rate far lower than expected.”
  • Renewable Energy– Business. According to a new report from MIT there is movement in the renewable energy industry.  One report shows a large increase in patents for renewable energy technology, concluding investment is paying off in that sector.
  • Sports and Universities.  A recent report by Moody’s Investors Service found that large universities might face risks as they focus more on big-time college sports that counteract the benefits of exposure and revenue. Specifically, the report found “These risks go beyond the financial and include reputational risks should a program become embroiled in scandal. Moody’s also views the ultimate costs of these programs as uncertain, given exposure to potential litigation over head injuries as well as possible movement away from the amateur athlete model.
  • Online Courses.  How do Americans view online courses? According to a poll by Gallup, most Americans have mixed views.  While they think instruction can be a good, they felt the quality of college education was inferior through online courses.
  • HS to College. The  National Student Clearinghouse Research Center released new benchmarks for tracking HS students as they go to college.  The report contains data for six different HS categories based on location (rural v. urban), income, and percentage of minority students.  Unsurprisingly, income appears to be a key determinate in college enrollment rates.
  • Energy Puzzles.  This New York Times piece explores how technology is aiding the energy industry and allowing companies to reach and exploit resources previously believed too difficult or expensive to reach (like sections of the ocean floor).  The article looks at the various energy sources and their prospects globally.
  • Multiple Thinking.  The psychologist, Howard Gardner, who coined the term “multiple intelligences” weighs in on the tendency for educators and others to confuse it with “learning styles.”  He provides suggestions for educators to approach students based on his findings.
  • Poorer Public Schools. A recent report, “A New Majority,” by the Southern Education Foundation found that nearly half of all students in public schools are low-income, with more than half of students at public schools in the South (not Maryland or Virginia) and West (not Washington) are low-income. Low income is often tied to lower performance or scores in schools.  A Washington Post Education blog addresses poverty and schools, and how many highly-educated, high income education policy promoters are missing the boat.
  • Student Loan Troubles.  Students are having difficulty paying off their loans partially because private lenders are not applying payments properly to loan balances. Private loans, which tend to have interest rates that exceed those of federal loans, frequently provide limited opportunities to refinance and reduce rates or for repayment of the principal because private vendors will not always credit extra payments toward principal.
  • European MOOCs.  A German-based MOOC provider, iversity, opened online classes. These are the first online courses by a European provider.  Already 100,000+ students have enrolled and iversity expects to have 24 online courses running by next year.
  • Unwanted Exposure.  Nutrients from agricultural operations are floating into national parks at an alarming rate.  A recent study found that “Thirty-eight of 45 national parks examined by scientists are receiving doses of nitrogen at or above a critical threshold that can harm sensitive ecosystems,” reports the LA Times.
  • Online at Issue.  As reported in the posting, Toenail Fungus…, an organization of faculty groups is questioning the upsides of online education.  In a second paper, the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education contends that on online education may be costing students and colleges more than saving them money.
  • GED Threshold.  The GED, a staple for high school dropouts and others, is about to get more difficult and costly, in an effort to raise and align standards with the Common Core curriculum adopted by almost all states and DC.  Ultimately, increasing pressure on what is probably one of the most vulnerable segments of workers in the US.
  • Nuclear Plant Inspections.  Is your local nuclear plant being vigorously inspected?  Apparently, it depends where you live.  Inspection rates vary dramatically depending on region of the country, with reactors in the West being inspected more.
  • Mandatory Tutoring. As part of NCLB, the education act that pushed for extensive testing despite never providing necessary resources (a problem exacerbated by Congress not providing even the authorized levels) provided funding for tutoring programs for low-income programs, which have generally failed.  Meanwhile, tutoring companies are pushing hard to preserve this goldmine, despite a lack of success.


Upcoming Events (listed by date):




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