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; Energy Efficiency; Patent Legislation; Farm Bill; Immigration; WRDA; Humanities; Protecting Students; Congressional Hearings & Markups.
  • Administration & independent agencies: Nominations, Confirmations, & Departures; Offshore Drilling; Low-Income Students; The Brain & DARPA; Sequestration Impacts.
  • Noteworthy News: Student Loans; Language Gap; Redshirting and Doctorates; Physical Benefits; Spanking Problems; For-Profits; Public’s View of Agencies; Curbing Testing; STEM & the Arts; Hope for US Students; Universities & “Patent Trolls;” Born that Way; College Costs.

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

Capitol News.


  • Budget Deals. While the leaders of the budget conference committee (see Federal Policy Week posting The Conference Begins) have already met, the rest of the Committee members plan to meet publicly on October 30, 2013.  However, the parties are far apart, and Senate Majority Leader Reid (D-NV), has already dampened hopes of an overarching deal.  House Budget Committee Chairman Ryan (R-WI) echoed Senator Reid’s doubts.  Meanwhile, a majority of Republican Members of the House Armed Services Committee raised their concern over the negative impacts of sequestration on the military and urged the Committee to reverse the automatic cuts for the Defense department.
  • Energy Efficiency. As reported in several Federal Policy Week postings (see Moving Ahead), the Senate has been working to pass bipartisan energy efficiency legislation.  The sponsors are working to get 60 votes of support to avoid procedural obstacles (namely, cloture) so the legislation can move forward with relevant amendments.
  • Patent Legislation.  House Judiciary Chairman Goodlatte, together with Republican and Democratic members of the House introduced legislation, Innovation Act (H.R. 3309).  While many in Congress appear giddy over the new legislation attacking “patent trolls,” some practitioners and patent holder/inventors urge caution, warning the bill may have unintended consequences and stifle innovation.
  • Farm Bill. House and Senate Conferees announced the first public meeting to discuss the 2013 Farm Bill for this Wednesday.  As mentioned in previous postings, the House and Senate Farm Bill conferees face an array of obstacles, the most difficult likely being settling the funding for the nutrition programs (they are apart by over $30 billion) and whether to make the 2013 farm bill the permanent agriculture legislation or to keep the bill grounded in the 1938 and 1949 bills.
  • Immigration.  While President Obama has called for Congress to pass immigration legislation this year (see posting The Conference Begins), that remains a tall order.  Although immigration proponents’ hopes were raised when Speaker Boehner did not rule out addressing immigration still this year and the emergence of a coalition of conservative groups supporting action.  There still remain many obstacles to immigration reform.
  • WRDA Bill. As mentioned in the posting The Conference Begins, the House passed its version of the WRDA bill, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2013, HR 3080 with bipartisan support.  In a surprise move, the White House issued a SAP supporting the bill with reservations (costs and environmental).
  • Oh, the Humanity.  Senator Sessions (R-AL) sent a letter to the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) asking NEH to justify its grant-making process, especially its approval of grants for a program that distributes books on Muslims as part of the “Bridging Cultures Bookshelf” Initiative.  This letter, considered an attack on NEH peer-review, is just the latest in a long line of attacks.
  • Protecting Students.  In another bipartisan effort (like the WRDA bill mentioned above), the House overwhelmingly voted for the Protecting Students from Sexual and Violent Predators Act (H.R. 2083), a bill to protect school children from sexual predators and violent persons.

Notable Congressional Hearings & Mark Ups:

Senate HELP:

House Judiciary:

House Science:

House Energy:

Administration & Independent Agencies:

  • Nominations, Confirmations, and Departures:

—-DOE: Presidential nominee’s approval of DOE Undersecretary for Energy, Elizabeth Robinson, is on hold by Senator Vitter (R-LA) because of alleged email misuse during her time at NASA.

—–ED: The White House is expected to nominate a new Undersecretary of Education, Ted Mitchell, a former university President and head of a “venture philanthropy” fund.  Mitchell recently took on the role of promoting the Gates Foundation agenda of testing, berating teacher colleges, charter expansion, and reliance on technology – completely in line with Secretary Duncan.

  • Offshore Drilling: The Department of Interior is expected to release a draft rule that provides stricter standards for “blowout preventers,” with the hopes of preventing another incident like the BP accident in the Gulf.
  • Low-Income Student Meeting.  The White House convened a meeting with several university presidents to discuss efforts to increase attendance by low-income students at top universities, including having more of these high-achieving students apply to competitive universities where they are likely to get admitted.
  • The Brain & DARPA.  As part of the Brain Initiative launched by the Administration, DARPA (see posting Congress Finishes Recess) announced $70 million for research on brain implants. As part of the request, research teams are required to create a device that can be submitted within five years to FDA for approval.
  • Sequestration Impacts.  Federal agencies have being dealing well with the impacts of sequestration, with a few exceptions.  However, the agencies can no longer put off the impacts by using delay tactics, and next year the agencies will face serious problems unless the recently established Budget Conference Committee restores sequestration funds.


  • Student Loans. A new report from the Brookings institute proposes replacing the various loan repayment plans with just one income-based system.  The objective would be to provide a simpler system that reduces defaults.
  • Language Gap.  It is well known that children from wealthier families (also more likely to be educated and focus on educating their children) have significantly greater exposure to words and language.  According to a new study, the gap can be found by comparing children as young as one and half years. How this will impact federal programs remains to be seen, but one key component of the Obama education agenda is universal preschool for low- and moderate-income families’ children.
  • Redshirting & Doctorates. While some studies show redshirting may help students in their younger years, it appears that the benefits don’t transfer to doctoral education, where a recent study found that no correlation between age of beginning elementary school and age of earning a doctorate or one’s salary after receiving a doctorate.
  • Physical Benefits. A recent study showed the benefits of physical activity on school performance (the health benefits are well known). Specifically, thre was a positive correlation between exercise and increased standardized test scores.
  • Spanking Problems.  While physical exercise has a positive impact on students, spanking has the opposite effect, leading to bad behavior. Specifically, “the researchers found that maternal spanking at age 5 was significantly associated with greater aggression and rule-breaking and lower scores on the vocabulary test at age 9.” Shockingly, many states still allow corporal punishment.
  • For Profits.  Despite promises by for-profits to create a voluntary code of conduct over two years ago, the effort appears to have dissipated.
  • Public’s View of Federal Agencies.  Despite constant attacks from some sectors of Congress (and some Governors), most Americans have a positive view of federal agencies (except IRS) according to a report by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. Overall, while only 23 % of Americans viewed Congress favorably, federal agencies earned favorable marks (e.g., 75% for CDC, 65% for FDA, and 62% for EPA).
  • Efforts To Cut Testing.  Over 100 children’s authors and illustrators, including Maya Angelou and Judy Blume, wrote President Obama a letter to encourage him to reconsider policies that favor extensive testing.
  • STEM & the Arts.  A new study found a correlation between majoring in the STEM fields and participation in the arts during childhood.  There appears to be a special connection between STEM majors and training in music.
  • Hope for US Students. Despite growing reports that American students are falling behind students in other countries, a new report on scores from eight graders in the top performing states outperformed the international average (although below students in several Asian countries).
  • Universities and “Patent Trolls.”  With the fight over “patent trolls” moving forward in Congress, confusion over licensing practices by universities came to light.  Several members of the group AUTM revealed that they had partnerships with the number one target of the “patent troll” legislation, Intellectual Ventures, despite signing a code to not work with companies having that type of business model.
  • Born That Way.  Apparently, a new report found that your political tendencies are part of your genetic code.  From a very young age, children display behaviors that are indicative of their future political leanings, with conservative adults at age three and four years “relatively over-controlled” and “uncomfortable with uncertainty” and liberal adults tending to be “autonomous,” “talkativeness” and “curiosity” at the same early age.  Even their brain scans were different.
  • College Costs.  Over the last decade the cost of college has remained relatively static despite rising published costs, according to a College Board report.  On average, students pay just over half the published cost of college, with costs kept down by rising grants and tax benefits. Although the costs still prove difficult for families that do not received the discounts or grants.


Upcoming Events (listed by date):




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