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AAU Weekly Wrap-up, July 30, 2021

Weekly Wrap-up Going on Hiatus Through Labor Day

In accordance with AAU’s summer hours, the AAU Weekly Wrap-up will be taking a break during the month of August. Publication will resume after Labor Day.

AAU, C4AD Urge President Biden and Congressional Leaders to Protect Dreamers

Yesterday, AAU joined the Coalition for the American Dream, an alliance of more than 100 top businesses and trade associations, in sending a letter to President Biden and congressional leaders urging swift passage of legislation that would create a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers.

Creating a legislative solution, the letter emphasized, would be the right thing to do and would provide a huge economic benefit to the United States. Further, the letter noted, there is broad bipartisan support for bills like the American Dream and Promise Act (H.R. 6) or the Dream Act of 2021 (S. 264) and a majority of voters agree that Dreamers should be allowed to remain in the country. The devastating blow dealt to Dreamers by the latest court ruling “makes it all the more urgent that Congress take up and pass a legislative solution right away,” the letter stated.

Sen. Menendez Introduces Bill to Expand the American Opportunity Tax Credit

On Monday, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) was joined by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Alex Padilla (D-CA) as well as Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) in introducing legislation to expand the American Opportunity Tax Credit. The AOTC allows eligible students to claim an income tax credit or a refund on qualified higher education expenses. As AAU tweeted, expanding the credit will help put a high-quality college education within reach for hard-working families across the country. Specifically, the American Opportunity Tax Credit Enhancement Act of 2021 will double the maximum value of the AOTC to $5,000, make the credit 100% refundable, increase income thresholds, and expand eligibility to taxpayers convicted of low-level felony drug offenses.

AAU President Barbara R. Snyder thanked Sen. Menendez “for his efforts to make higher education more affordable for more Americans” by expanding the AOTC. “In particular, AAU supports updating the credit’s requirements to make far more low- and middle-income families eligible,” she said, in a statement released by the senator’s office.

FY22 Budget and Appropriations Update; News on Infrastructure

Yesterday, the House passed the minibus package of seven FY22 appropriations bills in a 219-208 vote. The minibus package includes the Agriculture-FDA, Energy-Water, Financial Services, Interior-Environment, Labor-HHS-Education, Military Construction-VA, and Transportation-HUD bills. On Wednesday, the House also passed the State-Foreign Operations bill in a 217-212 vote and the Legislative Branch bill in a 215-207 vote. According to Politico, Democrats have yet to build enough support for the Commerce-Justice-Science, Homeland Security, and Defense bills. Senate appropriators are reportedly planning to mark up the Agriculture-FDA, Energy-Water, and Military Construction-VA bills next week.

The Senate bipartisan infrastructure deal also moved forward on Wednesday after the Senate voted to advance it in a 67-32 vote. According to a fact sheet released by the White House, the deal includes $550 billion in new federal investment in infrastructure. Among other things, the bill provides for $110 billion in new funds for transportation projects, $65 billion for broadband infrastructure, and $73 billion for power infrastructure. The legislative text for the agreement has not yet been released. Senate Democrats expect to turn to the $3.5 trillion budget resolution after passing the bipartisan infrastructure bill; yesterday, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-VT) indicated that Democrats have the votes needed to pass the budget resolution. The Senate is expected to work through next week, and possibly the week after, to give members time to consider the infrastructure deal and the budget resolution.

TFAI Urges Senate and House Budget Committee Leaders to Prioritize Investments in Fundamental Research

The Task Force on American Innovation, of which AAU is a member, sent a letter yesterday urging Senate and House Budget Committee leaders to prioritize investments in fundamental research and research-related infrastructure in the FY22 budget, in any potential reconciliation instructions, and in the competitiveness legislation conference agreement and appropriation measures.

The letter expressed concern that, despite bipartisan support, there is uncertainty in funding for fundamental research and research infrastructure in existing congressional proposals. Appropriations for some federal science agencies, the letter pointed out, have already failed to keep up with broader discretionary spending. “We call on you to make significant federal investments in fundamental research and research infrastructure a cornerstone of your initiatives to drive innovation, job growth, and prosperity in our country,” the letter stated.

HASC Subcommittees Complete FY22 NDAA Markup

Yesterday, the seven subcommittees of the House Armed Services Committee completed markup of the FY22 National Defense Authorization Act. Notably, the panel’s new Subcommittee on Cyber, Innovative Technologies, and Information Systems, which completed its markup hearing on Wednesday, released its proposals for the FY22 NDAA. The subcommittee mark was adopted out of committee without amendment.

The subcommittee’s proposals include provisions to: improve science and technology transfer across the so-called “valley of death” between academic pursuits and commercial applications; strengthen the Department of Defense’s digital engineering and testing; improve access to innovative talent; and prepare for competition in the information environment. In his opening statement, Chairman James R. Langevin (D-RI) reiterated the subcommittee’s commitment to “ensuring that the technologies shaping today and tomorrow, including biotechnology, artificial intelligence and machine learning, continue to mature and ultimately are applied across the defense enterprise.”

HASC subcommittees on Intelligence and Special Operations, Military Personnel, Readiness, Seapower, Strategic Forces, and Tactical Air and Land Forces also completed their markups and released their proposals. The full committee markup is expected to take place on September 1. Recordings of the subcommittee markups can be found here.

Senate Intelligence Committee Passes FY22 Intelligence Authorization Act

On Wednesday, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence passed the FY22 Intelligence Authorization Act in a bipartisan 16-0 vote. The bill authorizes funding and provides legal authorities for the U.S. intelligence community. A press statement released by Committee Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) noted that, among other things, the bill would increase “investments to address the growing national security threats and challenges posed by the Chinese Communist Party and its related influence operations, including in technology, infrastructure, and digital currencies.”

Confirmation Hearings and Nominations Update

The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources will conduct a hearing on Tuesday, August 3, at 10:00 a.m. ET, to consider the nomination of Geraldine Richmond to be the Department of Energy’s under secretary for science and Asmeret Berhe to be the director of the DOE Office of Science. Richmond is the presidential chair in science and a professor of chemistry at the University of Oregon. Berhe is a professor of soil biogeochemistry, the Ted and Jan Falasco chair in earth sciences and geology, and the interim associate dean for graduate education at the University of California, Merced. The hearing will be broadcast live on the committee’s website.

On Wednesday, President Biden nominated Chavonda Jacobs-Young to be the Department of Agriculture’s under secretary for research, education, and economics. Jacobs-Young is currently the administrator of the USDA Agricultural Research Service and serves in an acting position as the under secretary for research, education, and economics and as the USDA chief scientist. She has served in several positions at the USDA, including as the founding director of the Office of the Chief Scientist and as acting director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. She earned her M.S. and Ph.D. in wood and paper science from North Carolina State University.

AAU, Associations Submit Joint Comment Letter on OSTP’s RFI on Improving Federal Scientific Integrity Policies

AAU joined AAAS, AAMC, APLU, and COGR in submitting a joint comment letter on Tuesday in response to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy’s request for information on improving federal scientific integrity policies. The letter addressed several issues related to how federal agencies can adopt and implement standards for scientific integrity while building public trust in the value and impact of federal science. The letter emphasized to OSTP that, while strengthening policies on scientific integrity is a good start, “ensuring that these policies are adhered to, and evaluating outcomes from their implementation, should be a key part of the process to improve scientific integrity.”

The letter suggested several measures federal agencies can take to improve scientific communication, including asking scientists to publicly discuss their work, disseminating scientific information through multiple channels, adopting policies that promote public understanding of the scientific process, and informing the public about existing guardrails that protect science from political interference. The letter also urged OSTP to broaden the concept of scientific integrity to include issues that affect research integrity but fall outside the focused definition of “research misconduct.” Finally, the letter asked OSTP to promote consistency in the application and implementation of policies across federal agencies and to be as transparent as possible whenever it acts against violations.

NSF and OSTP Request Information on Implementation Plan for a National AI Research Resource

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Science Foundation have issued a request for information on an implementation plan for the National Artificial Intelligence Research Resource. The RFI will inform the work of the task force created by Congress to design a roadmap for establishing and sustaining NAIRR, “a shared computing and data infrastructure resource that would provide AI researchers and students across scientific fields with access to a holistic advanced computing ecosystem.” Comments and responses are due by 11:59 p.m. ET on September 1.

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