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AAU Weekly Wrap-up, July 23, 2021

AAU Sends Letter to Senate and House Budget Committee Leaders on FY22 Funding Priorities

AAU President Barbara R. Snyder sent a letter urging Senate and House Budget Committee leaders to make bold investments in the health, security, prosperity, and future of our nation as they craft the FY22 budget. Emphasizing the critical role AAU member institutions played in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the significance of America’s leading research universities to the local and national economy, the letter urged lawmakers to take steps to improve college affordability and to renew the government-university partnership.

The letter specifically asked committee leaders to include provisions in the FY22 budget to double the maximum Pell Grant award to $13,000 and to increase funding for other federal student aid programs; to invest in scientific and research infrastructure to empower groundbreaking research discoveries and innovations; and to provide funding for federal research agencies consistent with the bipartisan Research Investment to Spark the Economy, or RISE, Act. “As our nation looks beyond COVID-19 and to a brighter future, we ask that you renew America’s crucial strategic investments in the programs and institutions that are helping pull our nation out of this pandemic,” the letter noted.

House to Vote on FY22 Appropriations Bills Next Week

Next week, the House plans to vote on a seven-bill minibus package that includes the Agriculture-FDA, Energy-Water, Financial Services, Interior-Environment, Labor-HHS-Education, Military Construction-VA, and Transportation-HUD appropriations bills. Politico Pro reports that three more funding measures – the Commerce-Justice-Science, Legislative Branch, and State-Foreign Operations bills – have also been added to the floor House schedule for next week. The House is not expected to vote on the Homeland Security and Defense spending bills because of their controversial nature and the likelihood that they would fail. The Senate has not scheduled any markups, but according to CQ, a few could see committee action later this month.

SASC Completes Markup of FY22 NDAA, Releases Executive Summary

On Wednesday, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved the FY22 National Defense Authorization Act, with amendments, in a bipartisan 23-3 vote. The committee also released the FY22 NDAA executive summary featuring major highlights and descriptions from its subcommittee markups. The bill authorizes $777.9 billion for U.S. defense programs. According to Roll Call, the total authorized amount is $25 billion more than what President Biden sought and $37 billion more than what was enacted for FY21.

The committee’s version of the bill has several cybersecurity provisions, including those related to the implementation of the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification. The bill also contains security provisions related to disclosure and malign foreign influence. AAU staff will provide a summary of highlights upon release of the bill text and report.

AAU Submits Comment Letter on “Cures 2.0” Legislative Proposal

AAU President Barbara R. Snyder sent a comment letter last week to Reps. Diana DeGette (D-CO) and Fred Upton (R-MI) on the draft authorization language for ARPA-H included in the “Cures 2.0” legislative proposal. The letter praised the inclusion of the RISE Act within Cures 2.0. Funding included in the RISE Act, the letter noted, would mitigate the harmful effects of the pandemic on the nation’s research workforce and enterprise and preserve research investments already made by taxpayers.

Regarding ARPA-H, the letter urged that investments in the project supplement, not supplant, annual appropriated funds for the NIH and that the project not duplicate NIH efforts such as those being undertaken by the Common Fund, the BRAIN Initiative, or the HEAL project. Echoing comments submitted by the Ad Hoc Group on Medical Research, the letter urged lawmakers to “ensure that investments in ARPA-H are balanced with robust investment in NIH-supported, foundational, investigator-initiated research that forms the bedrock of our nation’s medical research ecosystem at labs across this country.” The letter also raised several additional questions for lawmakers to consider as they further develop legislative language authorizing ARPA-H, including whether the project will have an advisory board; how its funding mechanism would be separated from NIH’s base funding; and more.

OCR Publishes Q&A on Title IX Regulations

On Tuesday, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights published questions and answers on the Title IX regulations on sexual harassment. According to a blog post published by OCR, the 67-page resource explains “how OCR interprets schools’ obligations under the 2020 amendments” and “aims to assist schools, students, and others by highlighting areas in which schools may have discretion in their procedures for responding to reports of sexual harassment.” The resource also includes an appendix with examples of Title IX procedures that schools may adapt and may find helpful in implementing the 2020 amendments.

OCR also posted a transcript from its recent virtual public hearing on Title IX enforcement. The hearing drew live comments from more than 280 individuals and, according to OCR, will help inform its “future work to safeguard the protections of Title IX.” OCR anticipates publishing a notice of proposed rulemaking soon to amend Title IX regulations. In June, AAU submitted comments to OCR regarding the agency’s review of regulations and actions related to Title IX; AAU and 42 other associations also submitted an additional written comment on the 2020 amendments to OCR.

AAU, Associations Request Guidance from Education Secretary on Resumption of Student Loan Repayments

AAU has joined six other higher education associations in sending a letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona urging the Department of Education and the Biden administration to “develop and publicly share a clear plan to transition federal student loan borrowers back into repayment as soon as possible.”

Pandemic measures providing a moratorium on student loan repayments expire at the end of September 2021, and ED has yet to indicate whether it plans to extend the measures or resume repayments. The letter urged the department to develop a plan that provides borrowers with the option to either voluntarily resume making repayments or to request additional time to transition back into repayment. The letter also stressed that the department proactively communicate its plan to borrowers, servicers, and institutions as soon as it has one.

AAU, Associations Seek Clarification on COVID-19 Travel Restrictions and National Interest Exceptions

AAU, ACE, and 23 other higher education organizations and associations sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas with questions about COVID-19 travel restrictions and National Interest Exceptions for students and academics traveling to the United States this fall. Under existing guidance, students on F-1 and M-1 visas from countries currently under COVID-19 travel restrictions can enter the United States under an NIE if their programs begin on or after August 1, 2021.

The letter asks for clarifications on whether continuing F-1 and M-1 students, including students on OPT, are covered by the NIE; what students need to show at entry to demonstrate the start date of their programs; whether the NIE policy applies to J-1 students; and whether faculty and scholars traveling under visa categories other than F or M will be allowed to enter the country under the NIE.

Commerce Department Announces $3 Billion in Funding Opportunities

Yesterday, the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration announced $3 billion in funding opportunities as part of a new series of programs called Investing in America’s Communities. Using funds from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, the agency will make grants in six programs to “support bottom-up, middle-out economic development focused on advancing equity, creating good-paying jobs, helping workers to develop in-demand skills, building economic resilience, and accelerating the economic recovery for the industries and communities hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic.” More information about the funding opportunities can be found here.

Senate Confirms Heidi Shyu as Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering

Yesterday, the Senate confirmed Heidi Shyu as the under secretary of defense for research and engineering by voice vote. The position serves as the defense secretary’s principal advisor for DOD research, engineering, and technology development and activities. Shyu was the assistant secretary for acquisition, logistics and technology in the Army during the Obama administration. She has also served in several defense-related companies, including as an executive with Raytheon.

President Biden Nominates Laurie E. Locascio to Lead NIST

President Biden has nominated Laurie E. Locascio to serve as the Department of Commerce’s under secretary for standards and technology, a role in which she will direct the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Locascio, a member of AAU’s Senior Research Officers Steering Committee, is currently vice president for research at the University of Maryland, College Park and the University of Maryland, Baltimore. She’s also a professor in Maryland’s Fischell Department of Bioengineering and a professor (secondary) in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. She previously worked at NIST as acting principal deputy director and associate director for laboratory programs. In that NIST capacity, she led internal scientific research and laboratory programs across two campuses in Maryland and Colorado.

Resource Available: Recording of TFAI Briefing on Frontiers in AI and ML Research and Innovation

Yesterday, the Task Force on American Innovation, of which AAU is a member, hosted a briefing on the current state and future of artificial intelligence and machine learning research in the United States. The event featured expert panelists from industry and academia as well as remarks from Reps. Bill Foster (D-IL), Jay Obernolte (R-CA), and Jerry McNerney (D-CA). Watch a video recording of the webinar here.

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