DC Digest – February 4, 2016

In today’s issue:

  • Senate Begins Work on Energy Authorization Bill
  • Association’s Question OMB’s Lower Micro-Purchase Threshold
  • Judge Extends OPT Program Rule to May 10
  • IRS Withdraws Controversial Alternative Rule for Charitable Deductions

The Senate this week continues consideration of a comprehensive, bipartisan energy reauthorization bill. The legislation includes provisions on research that the Association of American Universities (AAU) supports.

Along with language to update federal energy policies broadly, the Energy Policy Modernization Act (S. 2012) contains language to reauthorize the energy programs in the America COMPETES Act: the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E).

The DOE Science and ARPA-E provisions were introduced last May as. S. 1398 by a bipartisan group of Senators led by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Chris Coons (D-DE).  AAU issued a statement in support of that measure.

This week, Senators will debate and vote on as many as 85 amendments. Earlier this week, Senators approved an amendment introduced by Senators Alexander and Dick Durbin (D-IL) that would authorize a funding increase for DOE’s Office of Science equal to 5% real growth over five years. This could result in an additional $2.7 billion above what is already authorized for the office over the next five years.

Other research-related amendments already approved are one by Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) to increase funding for ARPA-E and another by Senators Michael Crapo (R-ID) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) to support collaborations among academia, the national laboratories, and private industry on nuclear energy research.

AAU statement of support for S. 1398 (aau.edu)
This week: Congress takes up ObamaCare repeal, energy fight (thehill.com)

AAU joined with other associations of higher education in supporting a letter, sent last month by the Council on Government Relations (COGR), expressing concern about OMB guidance that would lower the micro-purchase threshold for research grants to $3,000.

In general, this would mean that for any purchases of $3,000 or more for services, materials, or equipment required for the research, grant recipients would have to explore multiple pricing options and document all price and rate quotes. The associations note this would impose an additional administrative burden on intuitions and researchers and delay researchers’ purchases of standard research materials and tools.

Concern regarding the guidance caused delay of implementation from December 26, 2014 to the start of FY18 (July 1, 2017 for most research institutions).

COGR letter on OMB guidance (cogr.edu)

According to reports from Inside Higher Education, a U.S. District judge has granted the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) an additional 90 days to implement a new proposed rule for the STEM OPT work authorization program for international students.

The extension affects several thousand students currently participating in the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, through which international students who have earned degrees in the U.S. are authorized to spend a year after graduation in paid employment that complements their field of student. Universities are responsible for maintaining students’ visa records during this period, while employers are required to develop and implement a mentoring and training plan for each student.

DHS will now have until May 10 to adjust a rule declared invalid based on procedural grounds after it proposed to change the optional extension of a visa from 17 to 24 months. AAU had submitted comments supporting the rule change, but asking DHS officials to consider changes to which programs the extension applied to, expressing concerns over complexities of compliance, including the campus Designated Service Officers.

Judge Grants Extension of Work Program for International Students (insidehighered.com)

In the wake of strong opposition from the nonprofit community, the Internal Revenue Service on January 7 withdrew a proposal to create an alternate means for nonprofit organizations to substantiate charitable contributions.

Of concern to the nonprofit community was that the new informational tax return would require a nonprofit organization to collect a donor’s name, address, and Social Security number or other taxpayer identification number. As stated in comments submitted by the National Council of Nonprofits and Independent Sector in December, this parallel reporting regime, even though voluntary, would open the door to fraud and identity theft and reduce charitable giving. AAU signed on to the community letter.

IRS withdrawal of notice of proposed rule making
Comment in opposition to Proposed Gift Substantiation Regulation (givevoice.org)