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AAU Weekly Wrap-up

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May 2, 2014

CONTENTS
CONGRESSIONAL SCHEDULE NEW
BUDGET, APPROPRIATIONS, AND TAX ISSUES
Senate Appropriations Committee Hearing Addresses the Innovation Deficit
House Subcommittee Marks up Bill with Increased FY15 Funding for NSF, NASA UPDATED
Universities Ask Appropriators to Support Research and Education at NASA NEW
House Approves First Two FY15 Appropriations Bills UPDATED
OTHER CONGRESSIONAL ISSUES
Senate Judiciary Committee Postpones Mark-up of Patent Legislation UPDATED
AAU Applauds House Passage of DATA Act
Associations Urge Reauthorization of Terrorism Risk Insurance Act
EXECUTIVE BRANCH
National Science Board Report Offers Ways to Reduce the Research Compliance Burden NEW
--Research University Associations Express Support for Recommendations in NSB Report
White House Releases Report On Protecting College Students from Sexual Assault

 

CONGRESSIONAL SCHEDULE NEW

The Senate did not meet today; the House met with no votes. Both chambers will reconvene on Monday, May 5. The Senate schedule for the week includes judicial and executive branch appointments as well as energy efficiency legislation (S. 1905). The House schedule for next week has not been announced.

BUDGET, APPROPRIATIONS, AND TAX ISSUES

SENATE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE HEARING ADDRESSES THE INNOVATION DEFICIT

The Senate Appropriations Committee on April 29 held a hearing with leaders of five federal research agencies and offices to discuss the topic, “Driving Innovation through Federal Investments.” The well-attended hearing can be viewed here.

Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) said in her opening remarks that the session was the first-ever crosscutting look at innovation and asked, “As one of the greatest countries in the world, are we so preoccupied with making budget cuts that we’re heading towards an innovation deficit as well?” (A video of Senator Mikulski’s statement can be viewed here.)

The Committee heard from the President’s Science Advisor, as well as the heads of the Department of Energy, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and DARPA.

The leaders agreed on the harmful consequences of cuts in federal research spending, particularly the across-the-board funding cuts made through sequestration. They discussed their frustration at the low percentage of high-quality research proposals their agencies are able to fund, which has led to a loss of excellent science and discouraged young scientists and engineers from research careers. They also noted that while the U.S. is cutting its investments, international competitors, particularly China, are ramping up their R&D spending.

The Senate panel also solicited views from the research community and the public and received written statements from more than 100 organizations. That total included a statement endorsed by AAU and 49 other scientific, business, and academic organizations.

 

HOUSE SUBCOMMITTEE MARKS UP BILL WITH INCREASED FY15 FUNDING FOR NSF, NASA UPDATED

The House Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations Subcommittee on April 30 approved its FY15 bill with funding increases for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and NASA. Funding in the overall bill is one percent below the FY14 level, reports Politico.

NSF: The bill would provide $7.4 billion overall, an increase of $237 million, or 3.3 percent, over the FY14 enacted level. Within that total, the bill includes $5.98 billion for Research and Related Activities, an increase of $170 million, or 2.9 percent; $876 million for Education and Human Resources, an increase of $31 million, or 3.5 percent; and $200 million for Major Research Equipment and Construction, which is level funding.

NASA: The bill would provide $17.9 billion overall, which is $250 million, or 1.3 percent, above the FY14 level.

Within that total, Science would receive about $5.2 billion, which is $42 million, or one percent, above the FY14 level. The bill includes $100 million to continue planning a mission to Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter, for which the Administration requested just $15 million, reports Politico. The bill also would cap construction spending for the James Webb Space Telescope at $8 billion.

Aeronautics would be funded at $666 million, which is $100 million, or 17.7 percent, above the FY14 level. Space Technology would receive $620 million, which is $44 million, or 7.6 percent, above the FY14 enacted level.

 

UNIVERSITIES ASK APPROPRIATORS TO SUPPORT RESEARCH AND EDUCATION AT NASA NEW

A group of 34 universities has written to House and Senate appropriations committee leaders urging them to support university-based research and education at NASA. The letter describes the importance of NASA’s Science, Aeronautics, and Space Technology directorates, and the Space Grant program to innovation and the next generation of space scientists, engineers, and managers.

 

HOUSE APPROVES FIRST FY15 APPROPRIATIONS BILLS UPDATED

The House this week approved the first two of its 12 appropriations bills for FY15: Military Construction-Veterans Affairs (H.R. 4486) and Legislative Branch (H.R. 4487).

Next week, the full Appropriations Committee is expected to mark up the Commerce-Justice-Science bill (see item above) and to approve its subcommittee funding allocations, the so-called 302(b)s, reports CQ.com. Also expected next week is subcommittee mark up of the Transportation-Housing and Urban Development bill.

In the Senate, Chairwoman Mikulski hopes to give her 12 subcommittee chairs their informal allocations for FY15 spending as early next week, reports CQ.com, so they can begin work on their bills before the allocations are formally approved in full committee, which is not expected until May 22. The first bill to be considered in full committee is likely to be Military Construction-Veterans Affairs, followed by Agriculture, says the publication. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has allocated four weeks of Senate floor time in June and July to consider appropriations bills.

 

OTHER CONGRESSIONAL ISSUES

SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE POSTPONES MARKUP OF PATENT LEGISLATION UPDATED

The Senate Judiciary Committee continues to work on patent legislation, searching for compromise language that could generate sufficiently broad support to pass the bill. Absent such a consensus, Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) postponed markup of the bill (S. 1720), which had been scheduled for May 1.

Earlier this week, a broad coalition of organizations – including AAU and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) – concerned about several provisions being considered for inclusion in the bill, reissued an April 2 letter to Chairman Leahy and Ranking Member Charles Grassley (R-IA). The letter, which was endorsed by more than 100 universities, expressed strong concern about the lack of balance in those provisions between curbing abusive patent practices and protecting legitimate patent enforcement. Without such balance in key provisions, the letter said, the organizations would have to oppose the legislation.

The Supreme Court on April 29 issued a potentially far-reaching decision on fee shifting in Octane Fitness v. Icon Health and Fitness. In its ruling, the Court substantially lowered the threshold for courts to call for fee shifting, or “loser pays,” under which the non-prevailing party pays the prevailing party’s fees in a given patent case.

The impact of the lowered threshold would make fee shifting more likely, thus obviating the need to include fee shifting—one of the greatest concerns for universities—in the pending patent legislation. That is the position taken by the Innovation Alliance, a group with which the university associations have been working, in a statement the group issued on April 29. However, some supporters of fee shifting reportedly are arguing that the Supreme Court’s decision makes the inclusion of fee shifting in the current legislation more necessary.

 

AAU APPLAUDS HOUSE PASSAGE OF DATA ACT

The House of Representatives on April 28 gave final congressional approval to the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act), sending the bill to the President for signature.

AAU issued a statement commending Congress for its bipartisan approval of the bill, which not only will provide greater financial transparency in federal grants and contracts spending but also will take important steps toward streamlining the reporting process. The goal is to eliminate duplicative financial reporting requirements and reduce compliance costs.

 

ASSOCIATIONS URGE REAUTHORIZATION OF TERRORISM RISK INSURANCE ACT

Under the leadership of the American Council on Education (ACE), a group of 10 higher education associations, including AAU, has urged leaders of the Senate Banking and House Financial Services committees to reauthorize the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA), which is set to expire this year.

In their April 24 letter, the associations noted that more than a decade after the tragic events of September 11, American colleges and universities remain potential “soft targets” for terrorism. Through TRIA, they have been able to obtain adequate, reasonably priced insurance covering such potential events. Without TRIA, many colleges and universities would face the difficult choice of either forgoing terrorism insurance or purchasing more limited coverage at higher cost.

 

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

NATIONAL SCIENCE BOARD REPORT OFFERS WAYS TO REDUCE THE RESEARCH COMPLIANCE BURDEN NEW

The National Science Board (NSB), the policymaking body for NSF, on May 1 issued a report that calls on the federal government to reduce the growing regulatory burden on faculty and others who conduct federally funded research. The report, “Reducing Investigators’ Administrative Workload for Federally Funded Research,” argues that excessive federal regulations on research are taking scientists away from the bench unnecessarily and diverting taxpayer dollars from research to superfluous grant administration.

The report was based on responses from thousands of federally funded scientists and engineers to an NSB request for examples of conflicting, duplicative, or ineffective regulations governing the conduct of research. The report recommends creation of a permanent high-level, interagency, inter-sector federal committee that, with stakeholder engagement, would work to streamline and harmonize regulations and help standardize the implementation of new requirements affecting investigators and institutions.

Regarding specific research regulations, the panel calls for limiting proposal requirements to those essential to evaluate merit; keeping reporting focused on outcomes; and automating payroll certification for effort reporting. The NSB further recommends an evaluation of animal research, conflict of interest, and safety and security requirements. It also encourages universities to review their own institutional review board and animal care and use processes to speed approval of research project protocols.

--Research University Associations Express Support for Recommendations in NSB Report

AAU, APLU, and the Council on Governmental Relations issued a statement on May 1 expressing support for the recommendations included in the NSB report on administrative burden. The statement said, in part:

“Too often federal requirements are ill-conceived, ineffective, and/or duplicative. When that is the case, the time researchers must devote to compliance with such requirements unnecessarily reduces the time they can devote to discovery and innovation…The research university community welcomes the policy recommendations in the NSB report. They represent sound and reasonable steps the government and universities can take to reduce regulatory costs and burdens, while still ensuring necessary accountability and government oversight.”

 

WHITE HOUSE RELEASES REPORT ON PROTECTING COLLEGE STUDENTS FROM SEXUAL ASSAULT

The White House on April 29 released a report from its Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, which, among other provisions, recommends that colleges and universities amend their policies on how to respond to victims of sexual assault and adopt new campus disciplinary processes.

The report, Not Alone, was accompanied by detailed policy guidance issued by the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights that clarifies colleges' obligations to address sexual assaults under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded education programs and activities. The report and guidance make clear that the federal government will become more visible and vigilant in enforcing Title IX in this area.

The report provides institutions with a toolkit to conduct a “climate survey” to gauge the prevalence of sexual assault on campus. The task force encourages institutions to voluntarily conduct such surveys next year. The Justice Department will work with Rutgers University's Center on Violence against Women and Children to conduct a pilot survey, which it will then evaluate and further refine. At the end of the trial period, the White House will explore legislative and administrative options for making the survey mandatory in 2016.

The White House also launched a new website, NotAlone.gov, to provide resources to survivors of sexual assault and information about Title IX investigations. The website includes a list of colleges and universities that currently are being investigated for Title IX violations over the handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints.

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