DC Digest – February 4, 2015

In Today’s Issue:

  • Brown to Lead U.S. Army in Engineering Research
  • Dukies on the Move
  • FY16 Budget Items of Interest to Duke – Updated
  • Rep. Scott Peters (T ’80) Visits Campus
  • Associations Endorse Doggett Bill to Consolidate Higher Ed Tax Benefits
  • Comments on NIH Draft Policy on IRBs for Multi-Site Research
  • Members of Congress Introduce Biomedical Research Bills


April Brown, the John Cocke Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University, has been tapped by the U.S. Army to lead its extramural engineering research enterprise.

As the chief scientific leader in defining the strategy of the Army’s extramural basic engineering research program, Brown will play a pivotal role in identifying critical research opportunities and programs, providing technical advice to the engineering sciences director and shaping the Army’s science and technology investment for the future.

Read More:
Brown to Lead U.S. Army in Engineering Science Research (pratt.duke.edu)

Abby Tinsley (T ’10)
has rejoined the office of Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) as a legislative assistant. She had previously served as a legislative assistant for Represent Rick Nolan (D-MN).

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

As reported in the special budget edition of the DC Digest, the Administration released its nearly $4 trillion budget for FY 2016 yesterday morning.  The plan would end sequestration and raise discretionary budget caps put in place in 2011, resulting in $1.091 trillion in proposed discretionary spending and a slew of new programs and initiatives.  The $74 billion increase in discretionary spending is offset by various budget cuts and new tax revenues.  The overall plan has been declared “dead on arrival” by the Republican-controlled Congress, but there are smaller pieces within that could garner bipartisan support.

Read more below for updated information on top line budget levels for Duke-specific funding priorities.

Read More:
Obama’s FY16 Budget: What Does it Mean for Duke? (governmentrelations.duke.edu)
AAU Table – Status of FY16 Funding Priorities (aau.edu)
Here Are Seven Things in Obama’s Budget That Are Never Going to Happen (nationaljournal)

California Congressman and Duke alum Scott Peters visited Duke on Monday for a series of meetings with faculty, administrators, and students.  While on campus, Rep. Peters met with President Brodhead, Provost Sally Kornbluth, and Professor Drew Shindell.  Mr. Peters also spoke to an undergraduate class at the Sanford school taught by Professor Bill Adair.

Read More:
Twitter Pics with President Brodhead and Sanford Students
A group of 12 higher education associations sent a letter to Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) on January 27 endorsing his legislation to consolidate higher education tax benefits. Specifically, the bill would consolidate the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) and the Lifetime Learning Credit into one simplified, permanent AOTC that will provide an annual benefit of $2,500 a year.

Unlike the Black-Davis bill and the proposal that President Obama offered in the 2016 budget, the Doggett bill has a $15,000 lifetime cap on the benefit rather than a cap on the number of years of eligibility. This is an important distinction for graduate students and nontraditional students who may take longer than four years to earn their degrees.

Read More:
Endorsement of American Opportunity Tax Credit Act of 2015 (acenet.edu)

AAU and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) have submitted joint comments to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in response to the agency’s Draft Policy on the Use of a Single Institutional Review Board (IRB) for Multi-Site Research.

The proposed policy would mandate the use of a single IRB of record for “all domestic sites of multi-site NIH-funded studies.” In their letter, AAU and APLU praise NIH’s intent to reduce the cost and regulatory burden associated with research involving human subjects, and endorse the principle of using a single or central IRB for multi-site research. However, the associations urge the agency to use caution in crafting and implementing the final policy, noting in particular that moving toward a single IRB of record takes a great deal of time and resources and “must not create an unfunded mandate” for institutions.

The letter strongly recommends that the agency consider the views submitted by individual research institutions that “have extensive experience with setting up and participating in central IRBs.” It is not clear when the final policy will be released.

Read More:
Comments on draft policy: single IRBs for multi-site research (pdf)

In the past two weeks, members of the House and Senate have introduced a multitude of legislative proposals and bills related to biomedical research.

21st Century Cures:
The lengthiest proposal was put forward by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), who has been working on a bipartisan effort with Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) to accelerate medical innovation, known as the 21st Century Cures Initiative. The 400-page discussion draft released by Chairman Upton comprises a number of smaller bills and proposals primarily related to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). For NIH, these include proposals aimed at assisting young scientists, a call for NIH to develop a strategic plan and examine regulatory burden, and support for high risk, high reward research.

In the Senate, Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN), working with Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), released a white paper largely paralleling the issues considered by the 21st Century Cures Initiative, titled, Innovation for Healthier Americans. According to Chairman Alexander, the paper “is beginning an inclusive and transparent process to… pass transformational legislation that the president can sign this year.”

NIH Funding Streams:
A number of bills have been introduced or proposed focused on innovative or alternative funding streams for NIH. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) has introduced the American Cures Act, which would increase NIH and other medical research agency budgets at a rate of GDP-indexed inflation plus five percent per year, paid for through adjustments of the budget caps.

Similarly, Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Brian Higgins (D-NY) have introduced the Accelerating Biomedical Research Act, which would make a budget cap adjustment to increase funding for NIH. The bill is bipartisan, with Rep. Peter King (R-NY) joining as an original co-sponsor.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has also introduced legislation to support additional NIH funding. But her bill, the Medical Innovation Act, has drawn criticism from the life science industry, because it would fund the increase through fines leveraged against blockbuster drug companies that have reached settlements with the federal government. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) is expected to offer a House companion bill to the Warren legislation.

The prospect for any of these proposals moving forward is unclear.