DC Digest – December 16, 2013

In Today’s Issue:

  • This Week in Washington
  • Higher Ed Associations Urge Members to Approve Budget Agreement
  • Associations’ Views on Senate Bill to Curb Abusive Patent Litigation
  • New Report on Implementing Select Agent and Toxin Regs
  • Report Shows Top Universities are Assessing, Improving Undergraduate Education
  • Senate HELP Committee Holds Hearing on Accreditation


THIS WEEK IN WASHINGTON

  • Budget: The Senate will vote Tuesday on the two-year, $1.012 billion budget deal passed by the House of Representatives last Thursday. If the bill passes, appropriators will then have four weeks to negotiate and pass funding bills for the remainder of FY2014. Members on the House Appropriations committee began discussions regarding top-line spending numbers, known as 302(b) allocations, last week.
  • Defense: The Senate will also consider the compromise 2014 fiscal defense bill Wednesday. Though some Senate Republicans expressed frustration with the negotiation process, Sen. James Inhofe (R-PK), the Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has said he believes the bill will move toward passage this week.
  • Economic Markers: The Federal Reserve will meet on Wednesday, with a significant chance that it will begin reducing its stimulus program — or at the very least, announce guidance for their plan for tapering their stimulus policies.

Read More:
Packed Senate schedule to test bipartisan relations in final week (The HIll)
Fed meeting to take center stage for investors (CNBC)


HOUSE APPROVES 2 YEAR BUDGET DEAL, SENATE EXPECTED TO APPROVE
In an important display of bipartisanship, the House last week approved the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013.  The package now goes to the Senate, which is scheduled to begin consideration of the measure on Tuesday, December 17.

The deal, crafted by FY14 budget conference committee leaders Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), sets the top-line discretionary spending levels for both FY14 and FY 15 and would avert the threat of a government shutdown when the current FY14 continuing resolution expires on January 15.

Summary of Agreement:
The budget deal would increase discretionary spending in FY14 by $45 billion over the FY14 sequester level, evenly divided between defense and nondefense programs.
– The $1.012 trillion total is halfway between the House-passed and Senate-passed FY14 budget resolutions.  Another $18 billion of sequester relief would be provided in FY15.
– The sequester cuts would be replaced by a combination of user fees, policy changes, and higher pension contributions for federal workers and benefit modifications for certain military retirees.
– Among the policy changes, the deal would change how certain nonprofit student loan service providers are paid.
– And to provide $23 billion in deficit reduction, the plan would extend the two-percent cut to Medicare providers by two years, through FY23.

One of the most important outcomes of the agreement is that the designation of discretionary spending totals for both fiscal years should allow the House and Senate appropriations committees to set spending priorities, rather than falling back on mechanical continuing resolutions or across-the-board cuts.

Read More:
AAU Statement Supporting Bipartisan Budget Act (pdf)
DC Digest Budget Update Summary from 12/11 (governmentrelations.duke.edu)
Duke Officials Monitoring Federal Budget Negotiations (today.duke.edu)

 

HIGHER EDUCATION ASSOCIATIONS URGE MEMBERS TO APPROVE BUDGET AGREEMENT
A group of 18 higher education associations sent a letter to all Members of the House expressing support for passage of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013.  The letter said that the measure “is a sensible, balanced and bipartisan approach that helps to address our nation’s fiscal challenges. It would allow Congress to begin to undo the damage caused to federal student aid and research programs imposed by sequestration.”

Read More:
Associations’ Letter Urging Support of Budget Agreement (pdf)

 

ASSOCIATIONS’ VIEWS ON SENATE BILL TO CURB ABUSIVE PATENT LITIGATION
The six higher education associations that have been working together on patent reform sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee on December 11 detailing their views on Chairman Patrick Leahy’s (D-VT) bill to address abusive patent litigation (S. 1720).  The letter thanked the Chairman and his Senate co-sponsors for their effective work in addressing this “costly and corrosive problem,” and offered some suggested modifications to the bill. The committee will hold a hearing on this issue on Tuesday, December 17.

While the associations generally support S. 1720, they are concerned that the bill could be modified with provisions from other Senate bills that are substantially similar to provisions of concern that were included in the House-passed version of the bill (H.R. 3099).  As the associations said in a statement about H.R. 3309 on December 2, “Although we strongly support the goals of this legislation to reduce abusive patent litigation practices, the cumulative impact of a number of the provisions of this bill would seriously undermine the ability of legitimate patent holders to enforce their patent rights.”

Read More:
Higher Ed Associations’ Statement on S 1720 (pdf)

 

NEW REPORT ON IMPLEMENTING SELECT AGENT AND TOXIN REGULATIONS
The American Association for the Advancement of Science, AAU, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have published a new report that offers recommendations to campuses and diagnostic laboratories about how to implement federal regulations on the use of select agents and toxins in research. The document describes the experiences of officials at research institutions and diagnostic laboratories in implementing the regulations, and offers suggestions for addressing the challenges faced by research institutions and diagnostic laboratories in doing so.

Read More:
Bridging Science and Security for Biological Research (pdf)

 

REPORT SHOWS TOP UNIVERSITIES ARE ASSESSING, IMPROVING UNDERGRADUATE EDUCATION
U.S. research universities use a wide range of methods to assess and improve undergraduate engagement and learning, and they are rapidly expanding these efforts, according to a report issued on December 12.  The report was based on a survey of the AAU’s 60 U.S. member institutions conducted earlier this year.

The vast majority of the institutions responding to the survey use quantitative data (such as time-to-degree and graduation rates) to measures student success; use student surveys to determine the quality of students’ experience; establish specific educational objectives for their undergraduates; and/or use a variety of tools to assess student learning.  The survey also found that universities are devoting significant staff and financial resources to these efforts.

Read More:
AAU Survey on Undergraduate Student Objectives and Assessment (pdf)

 

SENATE HELP COMMITTEE HOLDS HEARING ON ACCREDITATION
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee held the latest in its series of hearings in preparation to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, this one focusing on accreditation.

“Accreditation as Quality Assurance: Meeting the Needs of 21st Century Learning” looked at ways to update the accreditation system to keep up with the many forces currently transforming higher education. There seemed to be general agreement that the system needs to be more flexible, transparent and responsive, although how quickly change should be made was up for debate.

Read More:
Hearing – Accreditation as Quality Assurance: Meeting the Needs of 21st Century Learning (Help.senate.gov)
Senators Say Accreditors Are Ineffective and Beset by Conflicts of Interest (Chronicle of Higher Ed)