March 9, 2010
In this issue:
Currently in Washington
This week in Washington Democratic leaders will attempt to push the health care overhaul measure into the final stages of the legislative process. The most likely course of action will be for the House to pass the Senate version of the bill, and then for both chambers to use reconciliation to make changes to the Senate bill’s language. Senate leaders had hoped to send the package to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to be “scored” – a term for cost analysis – but as of Monday evening that had not happened. Provisions such as the inclusion of language concerning federal funding for abortion continue to trip up progress on the measure.
Also this week the Senate will continue its consideration of several tax provisions (called extenders), in addition to measures on unemployment insurance and Cobra health care subsidies. Later this week, the House will take up a debt relief measure for Haiti, tax breaks for earthquake relief in Chile, and to set a timeline for withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the President is expected to meet today with a bipartisan group of senators who are potential swing votes for climate and energy legislation.
[Back to Top]
Last week President Obama again pressed for advancement of the health care reform measures that are stalled in Congress, publicly calling for an up-or-down vote and suggesting that using a procedural method known as “reconciliation” is an option. The rarely used tactic would allow Senate Democrats to circumvent the Republican filibuster that will surely come now that the election of Scott Brown (R-MA) has cost them their supermajority. Such a route would only require a simple majority vote in both the Senate and House to pass health care legislation, and the President has stated that he expects the House to act before he leaves for a trip abroad on March 18. Republicans are still working to stop the legislation’s advance and will likely use several strategies, including offering an unlimited number of amendments, to ensure that it does not become law. Currently the President is conducting talks with Democratic leadership in both the House and Senate to smooth out differences within their own party that could derail the reconciliation process, not the least of which is abortion language in the Senate version of the bill that some find unacceptable. Because reconciliation can only be performed once per year, it is expected that the Senate will follow instructions laid out in the fiscal year 2010 budget resolution and also use the opportunity to vote on the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act or similar legislation with only a simple majority needed for passage.
In another aspect of health care reform, Congress voted on March 2nd to delay a scheduled 21% Medicare physician payment cut until April 1st. Since 1996, physicians’ Medicare payments have been adjusted based on a formula called the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) that was intended to keep medical spending in line with GDP growth. The formula, which relies on a limited input of data, has called for a cut to physician fees every year since 2002 and has always been overridden by acts of Congress. The issue to be decided in coming weeks is whether the Medicare cuts should be allowed to go into effect as a means of reducing the overall cost of the Democrats’ health care package.
[Back to Top]
On March 4th, the House of Representatives passed a $15 billion bill entitled the “Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment Act” (H.R. 2847) aimed at creating jobs through construction projects and tax credits. The bill, which will require approval by the Senate before becoming law, is the latest in a series of measures designed to strategically spend money to spur job growth and reduce unemployment. It allows public universities to use the tax credit provisions and encourages school construction by expanding existing tax credit bond programs. Also being debated in the Senate is a larger $107 billion that would contribute money for unemployment funds and further extend tax cuts, and the $75 billion Jobs For Main Street Act that was passed by the House in December. Under Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), a number of proposals for tax credits, travel promotion, and even health care have been reorganized and presented in individual “jobs bills” with the some of the details being lost to ambiguous titles. Compounding the confusion as to what each bill contains is Congress’s use of “extenders” to reauthorize select provisions such as COBRA benefits individually for the short-term, sometimes just for one month.
[Back to Top]
FY11 President's Budget
President Obama’s budget totals almost $4 trillion and proposes a three-year freeze on most domestic discretionary spending with some exceptions made for military and entitlement programs. Below are highlights of the budget’s impact on various agencies.
Department of Energy: Discretionary spending for the DOE would increase by 7%, which would support tens of thousands of university researchers and students in using DOE facilities to make progress in the fields of Basic Energy Sciences, Nuclear Physics, Advanced Computing, and other expanding areas. Also included in the budget is more money for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) and $34 million designated for the Office of Science to create a fourth Energy Innovation Hub that would focus on batteries and energy storage.
Department of Education:
President Obama’s education budget for Fiscal Year 2011 calls for $50.7 billion in discretionary spending. This represents an increase of $4.5 billion over the 2010 levels provided to the Department of Education. Within this budget, $1 billion is contingent on Congress reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). ESEA serves as the cornerstone of the federal investment in elementary and secondary education. Last authorized in 2002 (P.L. 107-110) as the "No Child Left Behind" Act, the law expired in FY 2007 and has not been reauthorized since. While the U.S. House of Representatives and the Administration have included ESEA reauthorization as part of their legislative priorities for the second session of the 111th Congress, it remains a very heavy lift to achieve considering the other items on the national scene, including resolution of health care reform, jobs, and the economy.
Under the proposed budget, thirty-nine ESEA programs including the Teacher Quality Program would be consolidated into nine new funding streams that would use competitive grants to encourage efficient spending. Being eliminated is the Education Technology State Grants Program with a promise by the Administration to “encourage the infusion of technology across programs.” The overhaul would use three Effective Teaching and Learning Programs to promote literacy, STEM education, and innovation. Funding for the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG) has been frozen for fiscal year 2011, and no money was allotted for the Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership (LEAP) as its fiscal year 2010 funding was intended to be spent over two years.
The President’s budget would make permanent the American Opportunity Education Tax Credit that was originally introduced in the Recovery Act and continue to allow yearly deductions of $2,500 to offset the cost of college tuition. In keeping with the fiscal year 2010 budget request, President Obama proposes to make the Pell Grant into a full entitlement and raising funding to $34.8 billion dollars. A total of 8.7 million students would become available for the Pell Grant program under this budget and the maximum grant amount would rise by inflation plus one percentage point over the next decade. It assumes that the SAFRA bill will contribute $68 billion over the next 10 years.
While the budget gives emphasis to enhancing university programs, it also calls for a spending freeze for the TRIO and GEAR UP programs. The budget includes an additional $1.35 billion for Race to the Top, with the President asking Congress to change the program’s criteria so that individual districts may compete for funds even if their state has opted out.
Department of Homeland Security: DHS has increased funding for technology related to radiological detection and its Transportation Security Laboratory, but decreased funding for university programs promoting STEM education. At least one Center of Excellence will be cut, and the Scholarship and Fellowship fund will be reduced by $600,000.
Department of Defense: The President’s budget includes a slight decrease of less than 3% for Research, Development, Test and Evaluation (RDT&E) and increases in spending on Defense Science and Technology (S&T) research. Funding for (S&T) in the defense-wide account is 26% more than what was requested in fiscal year 2010. Prominent in this increase is a 22% boost to the National Defense Education Program and a slight bump of 4.5% for DARPA. As in fiscal year 2010, no funds were requested for the Government-Industry Co-sponsorship of University Research (GICUR).
[Back to Top]
Congress has been attempted to re-write the nation’s patent laws for more than four years. Well financed lobbying coalitions have been formed by many corporate interests, resulting in a stalemate for most of this period. As a key component of the nation’s innovation system, universities employ the patent system to transfer discoveries made through university research into the private sector for development into useful products and processes that benefit society. As such, the UT System has been working with the higher education trade associations to ensure that any changes to the patent system protect our interests.
The primary motive behind Congress’ interest in revising patent laws is to move the U.S. process to a “first inventor to file” system, thereby bringing our system in line with international systems. However, such a move potentially raises problems for universities, whose faculty inventors often publish in academic journals first and only later decide to file for a patent, and whose basic discoveries may take some time to evaluate for commercial applications.
The higher education community believes it imperative that a move to a first-inventor-to-file procedure be accompanied by an effective grace period that continues to support broad dissemination of research results through publications in academic journals and conference presentations. In addition, language that seeks to change the way damages are assed during patent challenges must not impair a university’s ability to license its patents into the private sector for development. We believe that judges have ample discretion under current law to assess the relative value of patented technology in determining damages.
Senate Judiciary Chairman, Patrick Leahy, recently introduced a new version of patent reform legislation which is under review by the System and the trade associations. At first read, it appears to reflect the numerous discussions we have had with the Chairman and committee staff and is in line with the concerns mentioned above. We will let you know if anything different appears to be in the draft.
[Back to Top]
Congress Gets Ready to Reauthorize Elementary and Secondary Education Act
On March 3, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan testified before the House Committee on Education and Labor on reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, otherwise known as the No Child Left Behind Act. He called for a bipartisan plan that focuses on preparing students for the rigors of college and employment in the workforce. He discussed progress that the Obama Administration was making by including $100 billion in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that protected the jobs of teachers, principals, librarians, and other educators. He also boasted about the $4.35 billion Race to the Top fund that encourages schools to make significant reforms.
Secretary Duncan discussed how the Department of Education’s Fiscal Year 2011 budget lays out many of the reforms that the Administration feels are necessary when rewriting the Act. He placed an emphasis on the need to change how funding for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is executed by tying investments to reforms. In addition, Secretary Duncan asked Congress to pass the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act which would eliminate the Federal Family Education Loan Program and replace it exclusively with the Federal Direct Student Loan Program. Furthermore, the Fiscal Year 2011 budget seeks to strengthen an income-based repayment program Congress first enacted in 2007.
The House Committee on Education and Labor is seeking comments to reform the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. If you are interested in sharing ideas, comments, and suggestions email them to firstname.lastname@example.org by March 26, 2010.
[Back to Top]
Federal Student Loan Repayment
President Obama’s recently released budget for fiscal year 2011 included an expansion of the Income-Based Repayment (IBR) program. The IBR program allows individuals who take out federal student loans to repay their debt at rates adjusted for their yearly income and family size, making higher education affordable for more Americans. With the implementation of the new budget proposals, payments on student loan debt would be limited to 10 percent of income and any balance that remained after 20 years would be forgiven. In addition, student advocacy groups are currently pushing for changes to U.S. tax law that would exempt federal student loan forgiveness under the IBR and the Income Contingent Repayment (ICR) programs from being taxed as income. On February 24th a group of education organizations, including those representing the University of Texas System, sent a letter to Vice President Biden asking for his support and the support of the Middle Class Task Force in seeing these changes through.
[Back to Top]
GAO Endowment Study
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released a report to Congress on college and university endowments as mandated by the Higher Education Opportunity Act. The report describes the size and growth of endowments over the past 20 years, in addition to information on institution policies regarding the use of endowment funds.
Among the data reported, the GAO found that endowments declined by an average of more than 27 percent from 2007 to 2009, adjusted for inflation. Despite these recent losses, endowments at case-study schools showed average, inflation-adjusted long-term growth of 6.2 percent per year since 1989. Most endowment growth at case-study schools was from investment earnings. The University of Texas System was among the case-study institutions chosen for the study. Click here to read the report and highlights.
[Back to Top]
Science & Technology
AAU Catalog of Major Federal Government Fellowships and Traineeship Resources
The American Association of Universities has compiled a comprehensive list of funding sources available for graduate education and postdoctoral fellowships. The list encompasses fellowship opportunities across the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, Department of Education, Department of Defense, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Department of Energy, and Department of State. Click here to access this resource.
[Back to Top]
President Obama Nominates Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education
On February 23, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Dr. Eduardo M. Ochoa as Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education. Dr. Ochoa served as Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Sonoma State University. He is also a member of the California State University Academic Council where he plays a significant role in strategic planning and academic technology initiatives. His past appointments included six years at Dean of the College of Business Administration at California State Polytechnic University-Ponoma and Professor of Economics at California State University-Los Angeles.
[Back to Top]
NSF Science & Technology Indicators
The National Science Board (NSB) has released its Science and Engineering Indicators 2010, a comprehensive record of quantitative data that indicates the health and direction of science and engineering in the United States each year. While the report makes no policy advice itself, it is meant to be a resource for those who will make future guidelines. The Science and Engineering Indicators systematically detail changes regarding elementary and secondary education, higher education, national trends in research and development and other key benchmarks. The effects of the America COMPETES Act, which seeks to improve innovation in the U.S. through research investment and by increasing science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, are reflected in the NSB assessment. The results show that the number of science and engineering bachelor’s degrees awarded in the U.S. has consistently risen over the past 15 years with women accounting for half of those degrees. Furthermore, the number of doctorate degrees in the fields of science and engineering have also risen and peaked as recently as 2007.
[Back to Top]
Congressional Hearing on Research Infrastructure
On February 23rd, the House Science and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Science Education held a hearing to determine the state of research infrastructure at U.S. universities. Among the panel of witnesses was Dr. Leslie Tolbert, who represented two university coalitions of which the University of Texas System is a member. The subcommittee showed concern over a loss of productivity and personnel to foreign countries such as China where infrastructure investment is pronounced, and asked the witnesses for suggestions on ways to keep infrastructure needs from harming America’s scientific competitiveness. The issues raised included an infrastructure deficit that has been building in the public education sector for some time, and an assertion that as of recently funding “band-aids” have been applied instead of spending on long-term solutions. There was a consensus that more could be done to improve student readiness through an emphasis on STEM education at community colleges and that promoting greater collaboration at the agency level that would maximize research dollars.
[Back to Top]
Department of Commerce Forum on Commercialization
On February 24 Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke hosted a forum on the role of universities in innovation, economic development, job creation, and commercialization of federally-funded research. Participants in the meeting focused on developing new mechanisms to move ideas from the laboratory into the marketplace, strategies to support university technology commercialization, and the role of universities in fostering regional economic growth.
The forum is part of a broader initiative by the department to develop new agency approaches to issues of innovation policy, access to capital, consolidating government resources, and commercialization R&D. UT System administrators have been engaged with the Department of Commerce to ensure that their approach reflects a balanced perspective on university technology transfer. Later this month the department will facilitate a Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship focused on innovation-based growth. As part of the summit, an inter-agency initiative called Global Pulse 2010 will host an online dialogue between international stakeholders on issues of trade, entrepreneurship, and economic development. The dialogue will take place March 29-31. Interested participants should contact Daniel Noll (202.955.5498) for more information and to be added to the list of participants.
[Back to Top]
Departmnet of Energy ARPA-E Summit
This week the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) hosted a summit to bring together all the nation’s key players in energy innovation: scientific researchers, VC investors, technology entrepreneurs, large corporations, and government officials. The summit included a transformation energy technology showcase (including presenters who received ARPA-E awards), as well as conference workshops and speaker panels highlighting APRA-E’s research priorities. Click here to learn more.
At the summit, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu announced $100 million in Recovery Act funding will be made available to accelerate innovation in green technology. The new programs are:
- Grid-Scale Rampable Intermittent Dispatchable Storage (GRIDS). ARPA-E seeks to develop new technologies to enable the widespread deployment of cost-effective grid-scale energy storage. While many valuable applications for grid-scale storage exist, this program focuses on developing energy storage technologies to balance the short-duration variability in renewable generation. By investing in the development of grid-scale energy storage technology, this funding opportunity will allow the U.S. to assume global technology and manufacturing leadership in the emerging and potentially massive global market for stationary electricity storage infrastructure. This program seeks to develop revolutionary new storage systems that provide energy, cost, and cycle life comparable to pumped hydropower, but which are modular and can be widely implemented at any location across the power grid. Specifically, two areas will be considered: 1) proof of concept storage component projects focused on validating new, over-the-horizon electrical energy storage concepts, and 2) advanced system prototypes that address critical shortcomings of existing grid-scale energy storage technologies. Ultimately, technologies developed through this program will be scalable to the megawatt and megawatt-hour levels of power and energy capacity. This program will complement other Department of Energy grid-scale energy storage efforts by focusing on technology prototyping and proof-of-concept R&D efforts rather than pilot demonstration projects.
- Agile Delivery of Electrical Power Technology (ADEPT). ARPA-E seeks to invest in materials for fundamental advances in soft magnetics, high voltage switches, and reliable, high-density charge storage. These investments will be coupled to advanced circuit architectures and scalable manufacturing processes with the potential to leapfrog existing power converter performance while offering reductions in cost. Specifically, three categories of performance and integration level will be considered: 1) fully-integrated, chip-scale power converters for applications including, but not limited to, compact, efficient drivers for solid-state lighting, distributed micro-inverters for photovoltaics, and single-chip power supplies for computers, 2) kilowatt scale package integrated power converters by enabling applications such as low-cost, efficient inverters for grid-tied photovoltaics and variable speed motors, and 3) lightweight, solid-state, medium voltage energy conversion for high power applications such as solid-state electrical substations and wind turbine generators. Deploying advanced power electronics could provide as much as a 25-30 percent reduction in electricity consumption – or 12 percent of total U.S. energy consumption. Innovations in power electronics could lead to significant reduction in costs, which would promote U.S. businesses through technological leadership.
- Building Energy Efficiency Through Innovative Thermodevices (BEET-IT). ARPA-E seeks to develop energy efficient cooling technologies and air conditioners (AC) for buildings to save energy and reduce GHG emissions from: (a) primary energy consumption due to space cooling and (b) refrigerants used in vapor compression systems. ARPA-E seeks innovative research and development approaches to increase energy efficiency and reduce GHG emissions due to cooling of buildings in the following areas: 1) cooling systems that use refrigerants with low global warming potential; 2) energy efficient air conditioning (AC) systems for warm and humid climates with an increased coefficient of performance (COP); and 3) vapor compression AC systems for hot climates for re-circulating air loads with an increased COP. The unique challenge for the U.S. market is to develop technologies that can be retrofitted into current cooling systems. For developing economies, there is a large market for new cooling technologies. The development of these technologies will reduce GHG emissions and significantly increase U.S. technological lead in rapidly emerging clean energy industries.
Click here to learn more about ARPA-E’s funding opportunities.
[Back to Top]
NSF Director to Lead New Purdue Global Institute
Arden L. Bement, the director of the National Science Foundation, has been named to lead Purdue University's new Global Policy Research Institute (GPRI) in West Lafayette, Ind. Bement will begin his new post as the director of GPRI--which will draw on seven different science and research disciplines at Purdue--on June 1 this year.
[Back to Top]
NIST Launches New Competition for Research Facility Construction Grants
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has opened a new competition for grants for the construction of new or expanded scientific research buildings at institutions of higher education and nonprofit organizations. NIST has $50 million available for the cost-sharing grants and anticipates funding three to five projects with grants of $10 to $15 million each.
The NIST grants will fund new or expanded facilities for scientific research in fields related to measurement science, oceanography, atmospheric research or telecommunications, and the research fields of the Commerce Department’s three science agencies: NIST, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). Candidate projects could include laboratories, test facilities, measurement facilities, research computing facilities or observatories.
Grant proposals will be evaluated on the scientific and technical merit of the proposed use of the facility and the need for federal funding, quality of the design of the facility, and the adequacy of the project management plan for construction of the facility. Applicant organizations, which must be institutions of higher education and nonprofit science research organizations, must fund at least 20 percent of the annual project costs to meet the cost-sharing requirement.
Interested organizations must provide NIST with a Letter of Intent (submitted on form NIST-1102) outlining the proposed project by 3 p.m. Eastern time, Monday, March 29, 2010. Organizations that submit timely Letters of Intent may then submit corresponding full proposals, which must be received by 3 p.m. Eastern time, Monday, April 26, 2010. NIST expects to announce the awards in September 2010.
[Back to Top]
Panel Plans Authorization Bill to Address DHS R&D Efforts
The House Homeland Security Committee recently announced plans to write and approve an authorization bill for the Department of Homeland Security’s science and technology directorate. The bill is expected to promote the ability of small and minority-owned businesses to win contracts or join existing contracts for burgeoning technologies. Additionally, in an effort to unify science and technology efforts, the directorate is taking over applied research on radiological and nuclear detection technology from the department's Domestic Nuclear Detection Office. Provisions of the authorization bill will closely track recommendations made last summer in a congressionally mandated report from the National Academy of Public Administration. That report said the science and technology directorate had made improvements but suffered from a "fragmented and unwieldy structure."
[Back to Top]
Deadline for Broadband Access Grants Extended to March 26.
The Recovery Act appropriated $7.2 billion and directed the Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service (RUS) and The Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA) to expand broadband access to unserved and underserved communities across the U.S., increase jobs, spur investments in technology and infrastructure, and provide long-term economic benefits.
The result is the RUS Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP) and the NTIA Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP).
BIP will make loans and grants for broadband infrastructure projects in rural areas. BTOP will provide grants to fund broadband infrastructure, public computer centers and sustainable broadband adoption projects.
On Monday, NTIA and RUS announced their plan to grant a limited extension of time to file infrastructure applications in the second funding round. Specifically, applicants for BTOP Comprehensive Community Infrastructure projects will have until 5p.m. EDT, March 26th to file their applications to NTIA. Applicants for BIP infrastructure projects will have until 5p.m. EDT, March 29th to file their applications to RUS. Applications in NTIA's two other project categories - Public Computer Centers and Sustainable Broadband Adoption - remain due at 5p.m. EDT, on March 15th.
[Back to Top]
New Competition for Two ARRA Grant Programs Announced
HRSA has opened grant competitions for two ARRA-funded grant programs: the Equipment to Enhance Training for Health Professionals (EETHP) Initiative and the Training in Primary Care Medicine and Dentistry Program
The EETHP Initiative competition closes March 26, 2010. Technical assistance calls will take place Friday, March 12th at 2pm, Monday, March 15th at 3pm, and Wednesday, March 17th at 10am. The dial-in number for all calls is 888-942-9566. Use pass code 8511769.
More information about the EETHP grants can be found here: http://bhpr.hrsa.gov/grants/equipment.htm
The ARRA-funded Training in Primary Care Medicine and Dentistry grant competition closes March 24, 2010. Technical assistance calls will be held on March 16, 17, and 18. More information about the grant program, including specifics regarding the technical assistance calls for each grant program, can be found in the FAQ guide at http://www.bhpr.hrsa.gov/recovery/medicine/primarycaremedentqa.pdf.
Please note that the General Internal Medicine, General Pediatrics, and Physician Assistant Training programs will not be eligible to receive funding through regular appropriations this year. These programs will only be eligible for funding through the ARRA-funded competition.
[Back to Top]
Recently introduced legislation
For a listing of recent legislation sponsored by members of the Texas delegation, visit the Recent Legislation page of our Web Site.
To view Roll Call votes recently passed legislation, click here: (House, Senate)
[Back to Top]