DC Digest – December 19, 2014

In Today’s Issue:

  • President Signs FY15 Spending Bill into Law
  • Dukies on the Move
  • Ed Department Releases College Ratings Framework
  • Congress Approves Tax Extenders Bill
  • GAO Report Examines State Funding Cuts and Reduced College Affordability
  • Senate Fails to Reauthorize Terrorism Risk Insurance Act
  • Letter to House and Senate Judiciary Committee Leaders on Patent Reform for Next Year


President Obama this week signed into law the omnibus FY15 appropriations package (H.R. 83), the so-called “Cromnibus,” which will fund most of the government through the rest of the fiscal year. (Funding for the Department of Homeland Security was extended only through February to allow next year’s Republican-led Congress to address President Obama’s immigration executive order.)

While last December’s budget deal froze domestic discretionary spending at the FY14 level, the FY15 funding package included no cuts in the research and student aid programs on which higher ed groups focus, and provided modest increases for some. (See AAU’s FY15 Funding Priorities Table for funding details on these agencies and programs.)

National Institutes of Health: NIH is funded at $30.1 billion, an increase of $150 million. The agency will also receive $238 million from the $5.4 billion emergency package to fight Ebola, which will be used for clinical trials to evaluate potential vaccines and therapies, reports CQ.com.

National Science Foundation: NSF will receive $7.3 billion, an increase of $172 million. Within that increase, Research and Related Activities will increase by $124 million to $5.933 billion and Education and Human Resources by $19.5 million to $866 million. Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction will receive a modest increase of $760,000 to $200.7 million.

NASA: The space agency will be funded at $18 billion, an increase of $364 million. Within that increase, NASA Science will increase by $93 million to $5.244 billion, Aeronautics by $85 million to $651 million, and Space Technology by $10 million to $596 million. Education will be funded at $119 million and Space Grant at $40 million.

Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science: The Office will be level-funded at $5.071 billion, as will ARPA-E at $280 million.

The National Endowment for the Humanities: Funding for NEH will remain flat at $147 million.

U.S. Patent and Trademark Office: The USPTO is funded at $3.5 billion, the estimated amount of fees the Office is expected to collect in FY15. The total is an increase of $434 million over FY14. The bill also maintains a provision that allows the Office to use any excess collected fees, subject to congressional approval.

Defense Basic Research: Although the Administration requested an overall cut of seven percent in defense basic research, the bill provides an overall increase of $257 million, or five percent, for non-medical basic research. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency will receive $31 million of the increase.

Pell Grants: The measure provides $22.5 billion for Pell Grants and allows the maximum award to increase by $100 to $5,830 in the next academic year because of an automatic mandatory increase in funding. The bill does not include Senator Tom Harkin’s (D-IA) proposal to reallocate $2 billion of the Pell Grant surplus to other programs, but it does cut $300 million from the program, with some of that funding going toward student loan servicing. Pell Grants will once again be available to students who have not completed high school but are enrolled in a career-training program, as part of the “ability to benefit” provision.

Other Higher Ed and Aid Programs: Federal Work-Study will be increased by $15 million, TRIO programs by $1.5 million, and the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights by $1.6 million. Funding for both Gear-Up and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants is frozen. The First in the World program is cut by $15 million. There is no funding for the Administration’s proposed college rating system.

Read More:
AAU Chart on FY15 Funding Priorities (pdf)


Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker appointed Mary Boney Denison (T ’78) to be the new Commissioner for Trademarks at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) effective January 1, 2015.

Anne Moriarity (T ’11) has been promoted to Deputy Chief of Staff in the office of Representative Scott Peters (T -80, D-CA).

Are you or other Dukies you know making a move in DC?  Please send tips to Landy Elliott –landy.elliott@duke.edu.


By the start of next school year, the Department of Education plans to rate colleges on access, affordability and student outcomes — possibly relying on graduates’ employment and earnings data.

Schools could be rated as high performers, low performers, or “in the middle,” according to a “draft framework” of the ratings plan that the Obama administration released today. The document, essentially a status report on an initiative President Obama announced in August 2013, leaves many questions unanswered. But it makes clear that the Education Department still intends to assume a new role as an arbiter of the performance of thousands of colleges and universities.   – from The Washington Post

Read More:
For Public Feedback: A College Ratings Framework (ed.g0v)
Education Department Releases Framework for Rating US Colleges and Universities (WashingtonPost)
Obama’s College Ratings Plan Arrives, But Most Specifics Stay Behind (Chronicle of Higher Ed)


The Senate this week gave final congressional approval to a package of tax extenders (H.R. 5771) that revives expired and expiring tax provisions for calendar year 2014. Among the provisions in the package of interest to higher education are the IRA Charitable Rollover, the above-the-line tax deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses, and the R&D tax credit.

Approval of the retroactive extension pushes off to next year more ambitious plans to redo and make permanent a variety of tax benefits for individuals and corporations.

Senate Finance Committee Republicans on December 11 released a report containing background information and analysis intended to inform future comprehensive tax reform efforts. The section on educational tax incentives begins on page 115; the section on options to limit itemized deductions and the impact on charitable organizations begins on page 97.

Read More:
Continuing the Conversation on Comprehensive Tax Reform (finance.senate.gov)


The Government Accountability Office this week released a report to the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee that examines how state funding cuts to public colleges and universities have contributed to tuition increases at those institutions. The report notes that increased tuition has contributed to the decline in college affordability as students and their families have taken on more of the costs of college.

The report offers possible ways for the federal government to encourage states to make college more affordable, such as creating new grants, providing more consumer information on affordability, and changing federal student aid programs.

Read More:
Higher Education: State Funding Trends and Policies on Affordability (gao.gov)

The Senate failed to reauthorize the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA), which expires Dec. 31.

Originally enacted in 2002, TRIA created a public-private risk sharing mechanism designed to ensure that colleges and universities can purchase sufficient affordable insurance coverage to protect against losses resulting from a terrorist attack. Along with the business community, ACE and other higher organizations have long been on record as supporting the renewal of this law.

The House voted 417-7 last week to approve an extension of TRIA (S. 2244), sending the bill back to the Senate, which passed a different version on July 1.

A group of organizations collaborating on patent issues, including university organizations, wrote to leaders of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees on December 10 regarding patent reform in the next Congress. The letter thanked the leaders for their efforts to craft legislation to target abusive practices in patent litigation, but expressed concern that legislative proposals considered earlier this year would have threatened the ability of patent holders to legitimately enforce their patents. The group cited a number of judicial and administrative developments that call for a careful reassessment of the need for legislation to curb abusive patent practices.

The letter was mentioned the next day by Senator Richard Durbin (DIL) at a nomination hearing for Michelle Lee to serve as director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and Daniel Marti to serve as the federal government’s Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator.

Read More:
Letter to Judiciary Committee Leaders (pdf)