DC Digest – April 20, 2015

In Today’s Issue:

  • This Week in Washington
  • Dukies on the Move
  • Duke Prof to Address House Energy and Environment Coalition
  • AAU, APLU Urge FY16 Budget Conferees to Repeal Spending Caps
  • Associations Submit Statements on Tax Reform
  • University Presidents’ WSJ Op-Ed on Innovation Act
  • House and Senate Members Introduce Grace Period Restoration Act
  • House Committee Chair Introduces COMPETES Act


House of Representatives: Cyber security comes to the floor of the House this week, as lawmakers debate measures that would extend liability protections to companies when they share cyber threat data with federal agencies. Meanwhile, the Appropriations Committee will set the 302(b) allocations — the top line budget numbers that will guide Subcommittees as they prepare the funding bills for FY16. Elsewhere, the Armed Services Committee will begin work on the National Defense Authorization Act.

Senate: The Senate remains in a stalemate over anti-abortion language within the human trafficking legislation it’s been considering since mid-February. Senate leaders hope to have a resolution this week; if they do, they hope to hold a vote on Loretta Lynch’s nomination for Attorney General.

Read More:
This week: Attorney general vote, cybersecurity top agenda (thehill.com)

Brent McGoldrick (T ’97) named as Deep Root Analytics CEO. Most recently, McGoldrick served as Managing Director with FTI Consulting’s Strategic Communications practice in Washington, D.C. In 2012, he worked as Director of Advertising Analytics on the Romney-Ryan campaign.

The House Sustainable Energy & Environment Coalition (SEEC) will host a roundtable discussion on April 22nd, featuring Dr. Drew Shindell, professor of climate sciences at the Nicholas School, and his work on the “true costs of fossil fuels.”  The roundtable will include a brief overview of Dr. Shindell’s work followed by a discussion about how best to value fossil fuel emissions and why the Administration’s social cost of carbon may be inadequate.

Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA, T ’80) chairs the SEEC Climate Task Force.

The roundtable will take place on April 22, 2:30-3:30pm, in Rayburn 2148.  Please email chris.rackens@mail.house.gov with questions.

Read More:
Fossil Fuels are Way More Expensive than you Think (theguardian.com)

AAU and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) on April 16 sent a letter to House and Senate leaders and conferees on the FY16 budget resolution urging them to repeal the current sequestration-level discretionary spending caps. The associations also asked congressional leaders to reverse the proposed massive cuts to student financial aid programs and to reassert strong support for scientific research.

The letter, signed by AAU President Hunter Rawlings and APLU President Peter McPherson, added:

“As you resolve differences between the Senate and House FY2016 budget resolutions, we urge you to set the stage for a major budget agreement that includes tax and entitlement reforms and that places a high priority on critical investments in scientific research and higher education to close the innovation deficit and improve the outlook for our nation’s future.”

Read More:
Letter to FY16 Budget Conferees (pdf)

The Senate Finance Committee has created several working groups to solicit comments from interested stakeholders on how best to reform the U.S. tax code. This week, several higher education associations submitted comments to three of the working groups:

· A group led by the National Association of College and University Business Officers submitted a statement to the Working Group on Business Income Tax regarding the tax-exempt status of colleges and universities;

· A group led by the American Council on Education provided a statement to the Working Group on Individual Income Tax focused on tax provisions that promote college participation and charitable giving to colleges and universities; and

· A group of health and higher education associations submitted a statement to the Working Group on Community Development and Infrastructure on the importance of tax-exempt financing.

Read More:
Senate Finance Committee Seeks Input on Tax Reform (Finance.senate.gov)

The Wall Street Journal on April 14 published an op-ed by Boston University President Robert A. Brown and Clemson University President James P. Clements that describes their concerns that legislation pending in the House to address abusive practices by patent trolls would have the broader effect of disrupting university technology transfer.

In “A Patent-Troll Bill with Bad College Grades,” the two presidents express agreement that patent trolls are a problem, but they argue that the Innovation Act (H.R. 9) is so broad that it would make patent enforcement considerably more costly and risky for all patent holders, not just patent trolls. They note that recent court decisions and regulatory actions have strengthened the patent system’s capacity to protect businesses from patent trolls, which suggests that Congress should “proceed with caution in considering broad statutory changes.” They add, “As we work to address the abusive practices of bad actors in the patent system, let’s tread carefully to ensure that the ideas and inventions produced by university research continue to be nurtured and supported for the benefit of all.”

Read More:
A Patent-Troll Bill with Bad College Grades (WSJ.com)

A bipartisan group of House and Senate members has introduced legislation to clarify that the comprehensive patent reform bill enacted in 2011, the America Invents Act (AIA), provides a one-year grace period during which inventors can discuss or write publicly about their discoveries without jeopardizing their intellectual property rights.

The Grace Period Restoration Act (S. 926, H.R. 1791) was introduced by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and David Vitter (R-LA), and by Reps. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI).

Since enactment of the AIA in 2011, higher education associations have expressed concern that the grace period language in the AIA was ambiguous and has been interpreted too narrowly by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Read More:
Grace Period Restoration Act of 2015 (Baldwin.senate.gov)

On April 15, House Science, Space, and Technology (SST) Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), introduced the America COMPETES Act of 2015 (H.R. 1810 ), a two-year reauthorization of programs in three federal research agencies. The measure covers the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, as well as the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education programs.

National Science Foundation:
For NSF, the bill authorizes a budget of $7.6 billion in FY16, $126 million below the Administration’s FY16 request and $253 million above the agency’s FY15 funding level. In a departure from the 2007 and 2010 reauthorizations of the America COMPETES Act, the bill authorizes NSF funding down to the directorate level. Thus, it calls for a 45-percent cut in authorized funding for the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences Directorate (SBE), and an eight-percent cut for the Geosciences Directorate (GEO). The measure holds authorization levels for the Education and Human Resources Directorate (EHR) flat at $866 million.

The bill contains notable policy provisions, including one that requires NSF to issue a non-technical, written explanation of how an NSF grant award or cooperative agreement is in the national interest. The provision broadly defines “national interest” as research that: increases economic competitiveness; advances the health and welfare of the American public; develops an American STEM workforce; increases scientific literacy; increases partnerships between academia and industry; supports the national defense; or promotes the progress of science in the United States. The language makes clear that the national interest requirement in no way “shall be construed as altering the Foundation’s intellectual merit or broader impacts criteria for evaluating grant applications.”

Other important policy provisions deal with the agency’s management of large and multi-user facilities, misrepresentation of research results, and reproducibility of research results.

Department of Energy Office of Science:
H.R. 1810 authorizes the Department of Energy’s Office of Science at $5.3 billion in FY16, the same as the Administration’s FY16 request. As with the Administration’s request, the bill would increase authorized funding for Advanced Scientific Computing Research ($621 million), Basic Energy Science ($1.85 billion), High Energy Physics ($788 million), and Nuclear Physics ($625 million). In contrast to the Administration’s proposed 10-percent cut, the bill authorizes increased funding for Fusion Energy Sciences ($488 million).

Other DOE offices and programs did not fare as well in the bill. For example, authorized funding for the Office of Biological and Environmental Research would be cut by $62.4 million from the FY15 level, funding for ARPA-E would be cut in half from $280 million to $140 million, and funding for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy would be cut by $496 million from the FY15 level.

The full committee plans to mark up the bill on Wednesday, April 22, 2015.