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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Congressional, Administrative, Courts

Congress: COMPETES; Social Sciences; Senate Schedule; Congressional Hearings & Markups.

Administration & Independent Agencies: Nominations, Confirmations, & Departures; DOE & CCS; Shutdown Impact; Keystone XL; Universities and Innovation.

Courts: RFS

NOTEWORTHY NEWS: CO2 Levels, Endowments; Immigration; Wind; Cultural Capital; College Ratings System Problems; Coal Burn Out; Student Loans; Carbon Emissions; NEAP Scores; Universities & Pharmaceuticals; Charters for the Rich; You Said What?

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



COMPETES: Reauthorization of the COMPETES Act is underway.  While the House Science Committee appears split severely along party lines, the Senate Commerce Committee appears to be moving ahead on a more bipartisan approach (although this can all change).  Senator Alexander (R-TN) testified in front of the Senate Commerce Committee calling for reauthorization of some programs, including ARPA-E, support full funding promised under America COMPETES, and reducing duplication of programs.  At the same time, Chairman Rockefeller (D-WV) also called for investment in R&D programs.  Many obstacles remain before America COMPETES will be reauthorized. Differences over funding, peer-review, social sciences, APRA-E are just some to be expected as House Chairman Smith released his legislative vision of the next bill, the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and Technology (FIRST) Act.

Social Sciences. Senator Warren (D-MA), at the annual COSSA colloquium, defended funding for social sciences, stating she will advocate for increased federal funding for basic research. Senator Warren, a former recipient of National Science Foundation funds, specifically mentioned support for NSF, free of restrictions (including removing the current restriction sponsored by Senator Coburn (R-OK) on political science funding). The issue of funding NSF, and social sciences in particular, will be part of the negotiations underway of the America COMPETES Act.

Senate Schedule: The Senate released its schedule for the 2014 calendar year.  With the upcoming election, expect lots of time for Members to be back in their home states.

Notable Congressional Hearings & Mark Ups:

Senate Commerce:

Senate HELP:

Senate Energy:

House Science:

House Energy & Commerce

House Education

House Natural Resources:

  • Multiple Bills (including on surface mining, water rights, fisheries, permits), November 14, 2013

Administration & Independent Agencies:

Nominations, Confirmations, and Departures:

DOE & CCS:  Although there may be some truth to the rhetoric about the “War on Coal,” (although coal advocates need to admit natural gas is more of an enemy than President Obama) DOE announced funding for projects focused on carbon capture for new and existing coal-fired power plants.  DOE is also pursuing international partnerships to strengthen the technology.

Impact of ShutdownOMB Director Burwell released a report outlining the impacts and cost (economic, budgetary, and programmatic) of the government shutdown in October, estimating lost output at $2-6 billion.

Keystone XL: While the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline remains unclear, recent comments from EPA Administrator McCarthy indicated that President Obama is leaning toward approval.  Meanwhile, a Texas farmer won a default judgment against the Army Corps of Engineers’ (it failed to respond) permitting of the pipeline without holding public hearings on water-crossing permits.

Universities and Innovation: A recent Commerce report on universities impacts on innovation found that universities are doing much to promote innovation national, and stepping up those efforts with technology transfer offices, education of faculty and students, and centers that encourage entrepreneurship.


RFS: The battle over the 2014 biofuels production mandate continues with both sides using all tactics to reach their goals of either lowering or maintaining the level.  As reported in previous Federal Policy Week postings (see And it Goes On and The Conference Begins) rumors indicate EPA may lower the mandated levels.  Once again, the parties are taking their requests to Court.


CO2 Levels.  Once again, in 2012 CO2 levels reached a record high worldwide, leading to a warmer climate.  Moreover, the rate of increase in CO2, as caused by human sources, may be accelerating.

Endowments. College endowments appear to be increasing, according to preliminary results from an annual survey.  Endowment increases came mainly from a shift in investments to equities, and that more institutions are outsourcing their investments.  Many institutions (about half) saw an increase in donations.  How universities use their endowments remains a political hot topic as some lawmakers want more endowment funds to be used to lower tuition.

Immigration.  As immigration swings from the background to the forefront, more groups weigh in (see Federal Policy Week postings And It Goes On and Water, Patents, Budgets on business and conservative forces fighting for immigration reform now).  Now, the AFL-CIO is starting a major TV ad campaign blaming Republicans for inaction.

Wind.  As the wind-production tax credit expires December 31, 2013, the fight over whether to renew it wages on, with both sides lobbying heavily.  Some in the anti-tax credit crowd, like The American Energy Alliance, which organized and released a letter opposing renewal of the tax credit has ties (at least indirectly) to the Koch Brothers, who gained their fortune through their father’s oil companies, and do not favor government help for renewable energy sources.

Cultural Capital. Obstacles to success for college students who are the first in their families to attend colleges persist, partially because they lack exposure to cultural activities (reading books, visiting museums, attending concerts and plays, etc.).  One idea to help these students, who often lack the exposure to the cultural activities other students have, is to create “cultural capital.”  The goal is to increase exposure to these activities and build a connection for these students to their college and the other students.

College Rating Problems.  In previous posts (see And It Goes On) we have discussed ED’s anticipated college rating system.  Concerns about the proposed system are concerned of significant unintended consequences, especially for schools that educate low-income students and graduates who enter lower paying fields.

Coal Burn Out.  As mentioned above, coal’s advocates have more to blame than President Obama for coal’s downturn.  In fact, coal’s downhill trend started before Obama became president, as shown in this video.

Student Loans.  A new ED program is designed to help students pay back their student loans and recover from default.  The new approach allows students to make payments that are “reasonable and affordable,” instead of having to follow the (usually unrealistic) plans promulgated by debt collectors (that benefited the debt collectors directly). Of the approximately 300,000 people who had student loans and began repayment in 2010 and defaulted went to for-profit schools.

Carbon Emissions.  Some coal-fired power plants are adding wood to the coal as a technique to reduce carbon emissions.  Co-firing (with wood and other renewables) is one way for coal plants to reduce emissions under EPA rules.  To also comply, many older plants are replacing their steam turbines.  While neither of these (wood or new turbines) are a panacea, they do help move emission reduction efforts in the right direction.

NEAP Scores.  Once again NEAP scores were released (in a new format online) to the great interest of education watchers.  While 4th and 8th graders showed some improvements on reading and math tests, the achievement gap – or gap between the races – remains.  Moreover, while NEAP results show how students are doing, they do not explain why scores increase, decrease, or remain the same.

Universities and Pharmaceuticals.  The Department of Justice announced another settlement with a pharmaceutical company that marketed its products illegally.  Notably, the companies involved with these settlements engaged university researchers (including in joint research efforts) who later submitted articles to medical journals.  The companies used these articles in their marketing outreach efforts (by exaggerating positive results and diminishing negative ones).  They also helped reach into unapproved markets (like children, who for example, ended up using the drug Risperdal despite the fact that the drug was not approved for use in children).

Charters for the Rich.  Although the mantra of charter schools is that they help economically disadvantaged children (and we all know that is not always the case), some new charter schools, are clearly out the affluent and high performing children, while using public funds (and funding from philanthropies that favor more charter schools) to bolster their efforts.  Of course, charter schools are a hot topic in DC.

You Said What?  Some colleges are starting to look at another piece of information when reviewing applicants – their online materials.  So before you high school decides to tweet, post, or comment, remind them that their potential colleges and universities are watching.  Remind them also that their social media outreach and digital footprint lives on forever, even after they grow up and out of their teenage years.  While this may not be a typical policy area covered in DC, I thought you all might want to read this article.


Upcoming Events (listed by date):




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