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AAU Weekly Wrap-up

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May 13, 2016

CONTENTS
 

BUDGET, APPROPRIATIONS & TAX ISSUES

CONGRESS TO ACCELERATE WORK ON FY17 APPROPRIATIONS BILLS

The FY17 appropriations process is back on track in Congress.

This week, the Senate finished work on its first FY17 funding bill, Energy and Water (H.R. 2028) (see below), setting the stage for consideration next week of a combined FY17 appropriations package of Transportation-Housing and Military Construction-Veterans Affairs (H.R. 2577). The “minibus” is also expected to include money to combat the Zika virus. The measure could consume two weeks of floor time, reports Bloomberg.com.

In the House, budget rules allow Republican leaders to begin taking appropriations bills to the floor on May 15 without an FY17 budget resolution. First up will be Military Construction-Veterans Affairs.

SENATE APPROVES FY17 ENERGY AND WATER FUNDING BILL

After considerable delay over a last-minute Republican amendment affecting the U.S. nuclear deal with Iran, the Senate on May 12 approved its FY17 Energy and Water appropriations bill. The vote was 90-8 on this first FY17 funding bill approved by either the House or Senate.

Key to breaking the partisan logjam was the announcement by Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) that he would oppose the Iran amendment. On a vote of 57-42, the amendment failed to reach the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture, paving the way for passage of the overall bill.

The Senate bill, like the companion measure approved by the House Appropriations Committee on April 19 (H.R. 5055), would fund the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science at $5.4 billion, which is $50 million, or one percent, above the FY16 enacted level.

The Senate bill was amended on the floor to raise funding for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) from the committee-reported level of $292.7 million to $325 million, an increase of $34 million above the FY16 level of $291 million. The House bill would fund ARPA-E at $305.8 million, an increase of $14.8 million.

OTHER CONGRESSIONAL ISSUES

ORGANIZATIONS URGE SCIENCE COMMITTEE TO REVIEW SMALL BUSINESS RESEARCH BILL

A group of more than 75 associations, universities, and professional societies, including AAU, sent a letter to House Science Committee leaders on May 10 expressing opposition to a small business research bill approved by the House Small Business Committee and urging the panel to hold hearings on the measure.

The Commercializing Small Business Innovation Act of 2016 ( H.R. 4783), would raise the set-aside percentage for the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs at 12 federal science agencies, including the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

The House Science Committee has joint jurisdiction over SBIR and STTR, and its leaders have indicated an interest in holding a hearing on the bill.

The letter offers evidence that the SBIR program is not underfunded compared to other research. It also notes that current law allows research agencies to fund SBIR applications above the set-aside minimum, based on scientific merit and opportunity. The letter adds:

“The SBIR/STTR set-aside should not be increased without a thorough evaluation of existing data on these programs and the merits of and justification for doing so. During a period when agency directors are being asked to make increasingly difficult choices, we do not believe it is in the best interest of scientific advancement to redirect funds to one program at the expense of other national research priorities.”

ASSOCIATIONS THANK SENATOR BURR FOR BILL TO BOOST COLLEGE SAVINGS

A group of 13 higher education associations, including AAU, on May 12 sent a letter to Senator Richard M. Burr (R-NC) thanking him for introducing legislation to improve the ability of students and their families to save for college.

The Boost Saving for College Act ( S. 2869) would expand the use of 529 college savings accounts by allowing low- and middle-income families to use the Saver’s Credit for contributions to 529 accounts, encouraging employers to match the college savings of their employees, permitting savings not needed for college to be rolled over into a Roth individual retirement account, and enabling families with disabled children to roll over a 529 account into an ABLE account for disability expenses.

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

ANALYSIS OF COMMON RULE COMMENTS

The Council on Governmental Relations (COGR), with support from the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), on May 9 released a comprehensive review and analysis of the more than 2,000 public comments submitted on the administration’s proposed changes to federal policy on the protection of human subjects in research, generally known as the “Common Rule.”

The analysis found that more than 95 percent of patients and members of the research community opposed one or more of the major proposed changes. Commenters raised concerns about expanding the definition of “human subjects” to include biospecimens, mandating use of a single institutional review board for multiple-site studies, and the rulemaking process, itself. Universities were particularly concerned about key provisions relating to biospecimens.

A joint statement released by COGR, APLU, and AAU provides a general summary of the findings and says, in part: “There is broad consensus that the proposed regulations regarding biospecimens, as written, would be damaging to science, medicine and human health and would not improve participant safety and autonomy.”

OTHER

FORMER AAU PRESIDENT EXAMINES THE CHALLENGES FACING RESEARCH UNIVERSITIES

Former AAU President Hunter Rawlings, who is now serving as interim president of Cornell University, has written an essay for Inside Higher Education, “ What’s Right and Wrong about Research Universities .” In the essay, submitted prior to his departure from AAU, Dr. Rawlings focuses on three things he learned during his five years in Washington as president of AAU: research universities are working to improve undergraduate education, federal regulation of universities is stifling and out of date, and big-time college sports are “incredibly perilous for universities.”

Dr. Rawlings also emphasizes the importance of a liberal arts education to enable citizens to weigh arguments about complex issues with evidence, not just passion.

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