DC Digest - July 15, 2011
In Today's Issue:
- DC Court Strikes Down Part of State Authorization Rule
- House Approves FY12 Energy and Water Appropriations Bill
- House Bill Would Level-Fund NSF, Cut NASA Funding in FY12
- House Committee Sustains Subcommittee Cuts in FY12 NEH Budget
- Opinion: The Importance of Funding Social Science Research
- Scientific Enquirer: Why Cutting Funny-Sounding Science Isn't Funny
- Duke Signs Letter Urging Support for All Disciplines in FY12 NSF Funding Bill
- NSF Report on State of Academic Research
- Amid Federal Debt Reduction Talks, Pell Grants Still at Risk
- The End of Subsidized Loans?
- All But Elite Colleges Could See Impact From Federal Default, Moody's Warns
DC COURT STRIKES DOWN PART OF STATE AUTHORIZATION RULE
The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia struck down on Wednesday a portion of the Department of Education's controversial new rule which requires distance education programs to get authorization in every state where they have students. The rule—known as "state authorization"—is part of a package of new regulations that went into effect July 1.
At this point, the department appears to have three options: 1) accept the ruling; 2) appeal the ruling; or 3) call another negotiated rulemaking session in an effort to develop a regulation that can survive a court challenge. The department has said that it is currently reviewing the ruling to determine any additional steps it may take.
The higher education community, including Duke, is opposed to the state authorization regulation, along with a regulation establishing a federal definition of a credit hour. Additionally, two members of the North Carolina delegation have introduced legislation to rescind both of these problematic regulations. Rep. Virginia Foxx introduced her bill in early June, and Senator Richard Burr introduced a similar bill in the Senate last week.
Duke has been actively engaged in the issue, and President Brodhead discussed Duke's position on the regulations with Senator Burr during President Brodhead's June trip to Washington.
Court Strikes Down Part of State Authorization Rule (ACEnet.edu)
July 1st DC Digest Post on Senator Burr's Legislation (duke.edu/federalrelations)
Foxx Bill to Cut Red Tape for Colleges Passes House Committee (Foxx.house.gov)
HOUSE APPROVES FY12 ENERGY AND WATER APPROPRIATIONS BILL
The House today approved its FY12 Energy and Water appropriations bill (H.R. 2354) on a largely partisan vote of 219 to 196. Only 10 Democrats voted in favor of the bill.
Among the amendments adopted during floor consideration was one offered by Reps. Adam Schiff (D-CA), Charles Bass (R-NH), and Marcia Fudge (D-OH) to move $79.6 million from the Department of Energy (DOE) departmental administration account into the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). The amendment essentially restored ARPA-E to its FY11 funding level of $180 million, since the underlying bill provided just $100 million for the agency. The Schiff-Bass-Fudge amendment was approved on July 14 by a vote of 214 to 213. Although ARPA-E advocates were concerned that House leaders might call for a revote on the amendment, that did not happen.
In addition, the House defeated an amendment by Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) to completely defund ARPA-E. The chamber also defeated an amendment by Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) that would have raised funding for the DOE Office of Science by $42 million to its FY11 level.
As discussed in detail in the June 17 edition of the DC Digest, the FY12 Energy and Water funding bill reported from the House Appropriations Committee would fund the DOE Office of Science at $4.8 billion, a cut of $42 million from its FY11 level.
HOUSE BILL WOULD LEVEL-FUND NSF, CUT NASA FUNDING IN FY12
The House Appropriations Committee approved its FY12 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) funding bill on July 13 by voice vote, endorsing subcommittee decisions to level-fund the National Science Foundation (NSF) at $6.9 billion and cut the NASA budget by $1.6 billion from its FY11 level.
While the Committee passed an amendment by Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA) to cut $48 million across the bill to bolster operations for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the bill still essentially funds NSF at $6.9 billion and NASA at $16.8 billion for FY12. In addition, the Committee approved no amendments to eliminate funding for specific merit-reviewed research grants or specific disciplines (see item on Duke-signed letter later in Digest).
Within the NSF budget, the bill gives priority to research by adding $43 million to the Research and Related Activities Directorate (R&RA), paid for by cutting $26 million from Education and Human Resources (EHR) and $17 million from Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction. This means R&RA would receive $5.6 billion, EHR $835 million, and Equipment and Facilities $100 million.
In the accompanying report, the Committee suggests that the R&RA Directorate maximize the money available in FY12 for new programs and activities by terminating some of the proposals in the President’s FY12 budget request. The Committee also directs NSF to give priority in FY12 to research in such fields as cybersecurity; cyberinfrastructure improvements; advanced manufacturing; materials research; and interdisciplinary research in the natural and physical sciences, mathematics, and engineering.
For NASA, the Committee-passed bill provides $16.8 billion, or $1.6 billion below FY11 funding. Within NASA, the bill appropriates $4.5 billion for Science, which is $431 million below the current level. As part of that reduction in Science, the Committee recommends reducing funding for Earth Science by $100 million from the President’s FY12 request of $1.7 billion. But the Committee report stresses the importance of protecting high-priority missions such as Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satellite-2; the Soil Moisture Active-Passive mission; and missions with near-term readiness dates.
Although the bill would terminate funding for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), CJS Subcommittee Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Subcommittee Ranking Member Chaka Fattah (D-PA) said during the markup they would talk further about funding JWST in FY12.
The Committee-passed bill also provides $569 million for Aeronautics, which is an increase of $1 million; $375 million for Space Technology; $3.6 billion for Exploration; $138 million for Education; and $3 billion for Cross-Agency Support programs. Additionally, the bill appropriates $10 million to restart production of Plutonium-238 for deep space missions, and it calls for the transfer of $1 million from Cross-Agency Support to NASA’s Office of Inspector General for the commission of an independent assessment of NASA’s strategic direction and agency management. As in FY11, the bill prohibits the Office of Science and Technology Policy and NASA from engaging in bilateral activities with China, unless authorized by Congress.
HOUSE COMMITTEE SUSTAINS SUBCOMMITTEE CUTS IN FY12 NEH BUDGET
The House Appropriations Committee approved its FY12 Interior-Environment funding bill on July 13, making no changes from subcommittee in funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).
The measure would fund NEH at $135 million, a cut of $20 million from the Endowment’s FY11 enacted level of $154.7 million. The funding also is about $11 million less than the President’s FY12 request. This near-13 percent cut in NEH funding is disproportionate relative to the overall reduction in the FY12 Interior-Environment appropriations bill, which is seven percent below the FY11 level (and 12 percent below the President’s FY12 request).
Especially hard hit in the NEH budget are the competitive grants funded through the NEH Core Programs, which would be cut by $14.5 million, or nearly 20 percent, from the FY11 level. The Core Programs include Research, Education, Preservation & Access, Digital Humanities, Public Programs, and Challenge Grants. Within the Core Programs, the Research account took the biggest hit, with a $4 million cut, bringing it down to $12.3 million.
The Committee increased funding for the "We the People" program to $4.75 million, an increase of $1.5 million. “We the People” is an initiative introduced under the last administration that was zeroed out in the President's FY12 budget request. The bill also provides $2 million for the agency's new "Bridging Cultures" initiative.
Accompanying Committee Report for Interior-Environment (appropriations.house.gov)
THE IMPORTANCE OF FUNDING SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH
New York Times columnist David Brooks argues that funding social science research is integral to designing effective public policy solutions.
"Thousands of researchers are studying the way actual behavior differs from the way we assume people behave. They are coming up with more accurate theories of who we are, and scores of real-world applications...Yet in the middle of this golden age of behavioral research, there is a bill working through Congress that would eliminate the National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences. This is exactly how budgets should not be balanced — by cutting cheap things that produce enormous future benefits."
The Unexamined Society (NewYorkTimes)
SCIENTIFIC ENQUIRER: WHY CUTTING FUNNY-SOUNDING SCIENCE ISN'T FUNNY
AAU has been working to counter ridicule of “funny-sounding science,” including social and behavioral research, through the AAU Scientific Enquirer. The third issue, published Wednesday, contains articles on a project that runs shrimp on a treadmill in the lab to better understand how they respond to environmental stresses in coastal waters; how studying which toys baby boys and girls prefer may lead to better understanding of how disruptions in hormone levels affect behavioral disorders, such as autism; and on why developing robots that can fold towels is an important step toward enabling robots to perform very complex tasks.
AAU's Scientific Enquirer, Vol. 3 (AAU.edu)
DUKE SIGNS LETTER URGING SUPPORT FOR ALL DISCIPLINES IN FY12 FUNDING BILL
A group of 143 organizations and universities, including Duke, sent a letter to House appropriators on July 11 urging that as they consider the FY12 CJS funding bill they support merit-reviewed research in all disciplines funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The letter, led by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), specifically urges appropriators to oppose legislative efforts to defund already-awarded, peer-reviewed research grants that might have funny-sounding titles, or to eliminate or substantially reduce funding for specific areas of science such as work funded through NSF’s Science, Behavioral, and Economic (SBE) Science Directorate. The letter adds:
“We recognize the challenge that our nation faces in addressing the deficit and revitalizing our national economy; however, defunding specific grants or eliminating entire sets of disciplines, such as those represented by the SBE program, sets a dangerous precedent that, in the end, will inhibit scientific progress and our international competitiveness. Congress must exercise its oversight responsibilities, but second-guessing the scientific process could have a chilling effect on scientists and young people considering a future in science.”
Letter - Groups Urge Support for All NSF Disciplines (pdf)
NSF REPORT ON STATE OF ACADEMIC RESEARCH
The National Science Foundation has published new reports on how federal research dollars flowed to colleges and universities in 2009 and the status of graduate students and postdoctoral scientists in research fields in 2008. The first report contains a wide array of data on the institutions that received the most federal research funds over all and by discipline, for instance; the latter includes statistics on the future work force in academic science by field, gender, institution type and other indicators.
Academic Research and Development Expenditures FY09 (NSF.gov)
Graduate Students and Postdocs in Science and Engineering Fall 2008 (NSF.gov)
AMID FEDERAL DEBT REDUCTION TALKS, PELL GRANTS STILL AT RISK
College students from low-income families have long relied on federal Pell grants to help pay for tuition. Earlier this year, $4 billion was slashed from the Pell budget. Republicans in the House, under a budget proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), but rejected by the Senate, would have slashed even more. Pell grants are not out of the woods yet: Once again, its funding is in play during discussions about federal debt reduction.
Amid Federal Deb Reduction Talks, Pell Grants Still at Risk (Editorial - Star Ledger)
THE END OF SUBSIDIZED LOANS?
As talks continue and the deadline approaches on increasing the federal debt limit, Republican leaders have put the federal government's subsidy for undergraduate student loans on the table.
The negotiations between the White House and Congressional Republicans, aimed at reaching an agreement before the U.S. hits its borrowing limit on Aug. 2 and risks default, have looked at entitlements and other federal programs as possible sources of savings. During talks Monday, Rep. Eric Cantor, the Republican majority leader, reportedly proposed making students responsible for paying the interest their loans accrue while they’re enrolled in college, a change that would save the government $40 billion over 10 years.
The proposal would end the subsidized Stafford loan program, in which the federal government pays the interest that accrues while students are enrolled in school. However, according to reports in The Daily Beast, President Obama reacted angrily when the House majority leader, Rep. Eric I. Cantor, proposed the cut during deficit-reduction talks.
Obama Strongly Rejects Republican Proposal that Would Increase Student Debt (Chronicle of Higher Ed)
The End of Subsidized Loans? (InsideHigherEd)
ALL BUT ELITE COLLEGES COULD SEE IMPACT FROM FEDERAL DEFAULT, MOODY'S WARNS
The vast majority of colleges rated by Moody's Investors Service could see their credit ratings downgraded if Congressional leaders and President Obama fail to strike a deal by August 2 to raise the federal government's ability to borrow money, according to a report issued on Thursday by the credit-rating agency.
The Moody's report warns that any such government default would probably force the agency to downgrade its rating of federal debts such as U.S. bonds, which have traditionally been considered the safest investments. The negative effects of lowering the rating of those bonds would ripple through the economy, putting other traditionally highly rated bonds at risk of a downgrade as well, Moody's said.
All But Elite Colleges Could See Impact From Fedreal Default, Moody's Warns (Chronicle of Higher Ed)