DC Digest - March 9, 2012
In Today's Issue:
- Associations Create Website to Help Institutions Comply with Higher Education Regulations
- Employee Educational Assistance Act Introduced in the House
- New Democrat Coalition Announces Innovation Agenda
- American Collegiate Innovation Video Contest
- Associations Ask OMB to Extend Comment Deadline on Circular A-21 Reform Proposal
ASSOCIATIONS CREATE WEBSITE TO HELP INSTITUTIONS COMPLY WITH HIGHER EDUCATION REGULATIONS
Under the leadership of the National Association of College and University Attorneys, 21 higher education associations have created a website to help member campuses navigate federal regulations that affect higher education.
The Higher Education Compliance Alliance website will aggregate information and resources about the array of federal regulations affecting colleges and universities, from export controls and immigration requirements to student affairs, employment law, and research compliance. The material will be provided by associations, government agencies, and other sources.
Higher Ed Compliance Website (HigherEdCompliance.org)
EMPLOYEE EDUCATIONAL ASSISTANCE ACT INTRODUCED IN THE HOUSE
Earlier this week, Representatives Sam Johnson (R-TX) and Richard Neal (D-MA) introduced H.R. 4137, the Employee Educational Assistance Act of 2012. The bill will make employer provided education assistance (Section 127 of the Internal Revenue Code) a permanent provision.
Section 127 of the Internal Revenue Code allows an employee to exclude from income up to $5,250 per year in assistance provided by their employer for any type of educational course at the associate, undergraduate and graduate level. Employers are not required to provide assistance under Section 127 to their employees. However, if an employer chooses to do so, the benefit must be offered to all employees on a nondiscriminatory basis that does not favor highly compensated employees. Congress has extended Section 127 nine times since it was created in 1978, most recently in 2010. Section 127 will expire at the end of this year unless Congress acts to renew it or make it permanent.
Providing tax-free educational assistance is an important tool for employers to attract the best employees, build a skilled workforce and position the U.S. economy to compete globally. As such, the Coalition to Preserve Employer Provided Education Assistance, of which Duke is a member, supports the permanent extension of Section 127 for associate, undergraduate and graduate degrees.
Over the past few years, there have been several failed attempts to make Section 127 benefits permanent. Attempts to extend or make permanent any tax reductions will be difficult in the current political environment due to concerns about the rising federal deficit. An extension of Section 127 would likely need to be part of a larger tax reform package. Until a larger package comes together, the Coalition to Preserve Employer Provided Education Assistance supports H.R. 4137.
Coalition Endorses Education Assistance Bill (cpepea.com)
NEW DEMOCRAT COALITION ANNOUNCES INNOVATION AGENDA
The New Democrat Coalition, chaired by Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY), today released a set of 10 principles for U.S. innovation and competitiveness that includes support for basic research, reform of the nation’s immigration policies, and promotion of life-long learning. Release of the agenda by the group of 43 House Democrats was accompanied by an op-ed in Roll Call by Reps. Ron Kind (D-WI) and Gerry Connolly (D-VA), who led development of the principles. The two lawmakers said in their op-ed:
“One way the government can ensure America’s future economic competitiveness is by investing in the next generation. U.S. colleges and universities rank 27th globally for graduates with science or engineering degrees. By investing in science, technology, engineering and math studies, we can guarantee our students are ready for 21st-century jobs and are educated to excel in the industries critical to America’s future.
Recall that it was only through federal intervention that we were able to level the playing field after the 1957 launch of Sputnik 1 symbolized the Soviet Union’s victory in the opening salvo of the Space Race. Congress, in a bipartisan fashion, responded by doubling R&D spending and tripling support for basic research. Those investments in innovation are still bearing fruit today: the Apollo Program, the Internet and touch-screen technology, to name just a few. We must continue to build on the successful partnerships that have supported basic research on our college campuses and developed new technology within the private sector.”
New Dems Release Principles for Innovation and Competitiveness (crowley.house.gov)
Connolly and Kind: Refuel U.S. Innovation Engine to Spur Job Growth (rollcall.com)
AMERICAN COLLEGIATE INNOVATION VIDEO CONTEST
The Task Force on American Innovation (TFAI), in which AAU participates, has launched the American Collegiate Innovation Video Contest. The contest challenges students to use their creativity and imagination in a three-minute video that demonstrates how federally funded scientific research has resulted in discoveries that have benefited society.
The first-place winner will receive a $1,000 prize and a trip to Washington, DC to participate in an awards ceremony and a Congressional briefing at the U.S. Capitol.
The deadline for students to send in their videos is Thursday, May 31.
ASSOCIATIONS ASK OMB TO EXTEND COMMENT DEADLINE ON CIRCULAR A-21 REFORM PROPOSAL
A group of four associationssent a letter to White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Controller Daniel Werfel on March 7 requesting a 30-day extension of the deadline for responding to OMB’s request for comments on its Advanced Notice of Proposed Guidance (ANPG) on grant reform. Among other things, the ANPG proposes to modify cost principles and administrative requirements for universities under OMB Circular A-21 associated with federal grants. The requested extension would move the deadline from the current date of March 29 to April 30, 2012.
The request, sent by AAU, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, the Council on Governmental Relations, and the Association of Independent Research Institutes, asks for the additional comment period “to allow our associations and the institutions we represent sufficient time to analyze fully and effectively comment on the proposals put forward in the ANPG.”
OMB issued the ANPG on February 28 to solicit comments on proposals it is considering which, among other changes, would consolidate existing grant circulars, such as A-21 and A-87, into a single circular. Under a two-stage process, the ANPG is requesting comments on the set of ideas that OMB has assembled with the help of the recently created Council on Financial Assistance Reform (COFAR). OMB will use those comments to develop a set of specific proposals that it will publish for additional public comment in the late spring, to be followed by final changes during the summer.
COFAR was established by the OMB Director in October, 2011 to “create a more streamlined and accountable structure to coordinate financial assistance.” The group consists of 10 representatives from OMB and nine other large federal grant-making agencies. In developing the proposals in the ANPG, COFAR used recommendations from various stakeholder and review groups, including the Interagency Task Force on Circular A-21. AAU, other higher education associations, and many universities submitted recommendations to the A-21 Task Force last summer.
Examples of the proposed reforms OMB is considering that are relevant to research universities are: 1) a more risk-based approach to auditing, which aims to create a tiered auditing process based on the amount of federal award dollars received by an entity; 2) exploring alternatives to time and effort reporting, which would revolve around existing pilot efforts; 3) expanding the Utility Cost Adjustment for research to more institutions; and 4) charging allocable administrative support and computers as a direct cost.
The proposed changes also include giving universities the option to choose a flat indirect (F&A) cost rate instead of their negotiated rate. OMB argues that this option might appeal to institutions because it would "reduce administrative burdens on recipients associated with documenting, justifying, negotiating, and maintaining support for a negotiated rate.”