DC Digest – June 16, 2014

In Today’s Issue

  • This Week in Washington
  • House Passes Defense Appropriations Bill – Basic Research Cuts
  • Duke in Washington Hosts Panel on Big Data and Fine Arts
  • Student Aid Refinancing Bill Fails in Senate
  • White House Expands Student Loan Repayment Program
  • House Science Subcommittees Hold Hearing on Administrative Burden on Research
  • Top Senate Republics Seeks to Block College Ratings

Capitol Hill, Legislative: Both chambers of Congress will be debating and voting on Appropriations bills this week: the House has the Defense Appropriations bill on tap, and the Senate kicks off with the Commerce-Justice-Science bill. The Senate is also set to consider the Transportation-Housing Urban Development and Agriculture bills.

Capitol Hill, Political: The House of Representatives is still buzzing over Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s defeat in last Tuesday’s primary elections in Virginia. They will vote this Friday on his successor, as Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) face off. If Rep. McCarthy wins, as expected, the House Republicans will also need to elect a new Majority Whip, responsible for counting votes.

White House: Concerns over foreign events will likely dominate much of the Washington chatter this week, from Central American immigration to the state of Iraq and how the U.S. will respond to the ongoing clashes. Meanwhile, Vice President Joe Biden starts a four-country tour by attending tonight’s World Cup match between USA and Ghana. He will also visit the Caribbean and Central America.

Read More:
How House GOP will Elect New Leaders (Politico)
This week: Spending bills, VA Reform, leadership elections (The Hill)
Residents of northern Iraqi town flee; Kerry says U.S. open to cooperation with Iran (Washington Post)

The House Appropriations Committee on June 10 approved the FY15 Defense funding bill with a cut in defense basic research (6.1) programs of 6.4 percent and a cut in applied research (6.2) programs of 2.4 percent. As shown in the below funding chart, basic research funding in the three branches and Defense–wide would receive less than their FY14 levels. Only the Defense-wide program would receive more than the Administration’s FY15 request, an added $10 million above that level.

AAU issued a statement on June 10 criticizing the reduced FY15 funding level for Defense basic research in the House bill, saying that it was “only a modest improvement” over the President’s proposed cut of 6.9 percent.

The association urged the full House and the Senate to reverse the funding cuts, noting, “DOD basic research has led to technologies ranging from radar to GPS, from the laser to stealth technology. Congress should approve this kind of cut only if it wishes to erode our armed forces’ future technological advantages.”

The bill will be considered by the full House later this week.  Duke OFR is monitoring the situation and will provide updates as they become available.

Read More:
AAU funding chart (pdf)
AAU statement Opposing Cuts to Defense Basic Research (pdf)


Faculty members from the Information Initiative at Duke (iiD) joined the chief conservator from the North Carolina Museum of Art for a briefing at the Capitol Visitors Center on June 9 to discuss research projects at the intersection of mathematics and the arts.

“Big Data to Big Insights: Mathematics Revealing Art” featured work by Guillermo Sapiro, professor of electrical and computer engineering, who shared his work utilizing emerging technologies like 3D printing to create an interactive exhibit at Duke’s Nasher Museum of Art, as well as the collaboration between mathematics professor Ingrid Daubechies and William Brown, chief conservator at the North Carolina Museum of Art, on replication and rejuvenation projects.  Robert Calderbank, director of the iiD, moderated the panel.

Read More:
Big Data and…the Arts? (governmentrelations.duke.edu)
Van Gogh and the Algorithm: How Math Can Save Art (Time)


Senate Republicans last week blocked legislation that would allow existing student loan borrowers to lower the interest rate on their debt. The loan refinancing bill, championed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and backed by President Obama, failed to clear the 60-vote threshold needed to advance. It was defeated on a 56-38 vote.

The measure would allow borrowers of both federal and private loans issued prior to 2010 to refinance their debt at the interest rate currently offered to new federal borrowers (3.86 percent). It is part of a package of bills that Senate Democrats are promoting as part of their “fair shot” agenda, essentially a platform for the 2014 elections. The Obama administration estimated that the bill could have helped 25 million borrowers save $2,000 over the lifetime of their loans.

Republicans said the bill did nothing to reduce borrowing or lower education costs. They cast the legislation as a thinly veiled attempt by Democrats to burnish their populist credibility in an election year. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, issued a statement saying that reauthorization of the Higher Education Act would present another opportunity to help borrowers with existing student debt.

On June 9, a group of 12 higher education associations sent a letter to Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), the primary sponsor of S. 2432, expressing support for the bill.

Read More:
Loan Bill Blocked (Inside Higher Ed)
Elizabeth Warren’s Bill to Refinance Student Loans Dies in the Senate. Now What? (Washington Post)
Association Letter in Support of Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act (acenet.edu)


President Obama announced a series of executive actions on June 9 on federal student loans, including a memorandum directing the expansion of the Pay As You Earn program, which caps borrowers’ loan payments at 10 percent of their income.  By December 2015, Pay As You Earn will be expanded to make several million more Americans eligible for this option.The president’s plan also calls for the Department of Education to give additional financial incentives to companies that service federal loans to help borrowers avoid delinquency or default

While this is a valuable step, it does have some limitations. More far-reaching steps to lower the cost of student loans and improve repayment options will require action by both Congress and the administration.

Read More:
Factsheet: Making Loans More Affordable
Pay As You Earn (studentaid.ed.gov)


Two subcommittees of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee held a hearing on June 12 to examine the administrative workload for those conducting federally funded research.

Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Paul Broun (R-GA) and Research and Technology Chairman Larry Bucshon (R-IN) both expressed support for efforts to eliminate red tape and harmonize and streamline requirements, while still preserving research accountability. Rep. Dan Maffei (D-NY) noted that with an 80-percent rejection rate for federal research grants, scientists can spend significant time reapplying for grant funding. Duke alum Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) added that both grant-writing and too-frequent progress reports delay progress in science, but he said it was important to ensure that researchers are not wasting the public’s money and are taking appropriate safeguards in their research, such as in protecting human subjects.

Witnesses for the hearing were Arthur Bienenstock, chair of the National Science Board’s task force on administrative burden; Susan Wyatt Sedwick, chair of the Federal Demonstration Partnership; Gina Lee-Glauser, Vice President for Research at Syracuse University; and Allison Lerner, Inspector General of the National Science Foundation.

Read More:
Subcommittees Explore Reducing Red Tape for University Research (science.house.gov)


Senator Lamar Alexander said last week that he plans to attach an amendment to the labor, health, and education appropriations bill that would stop the Obama administration from moving ahead with its college ratings system.

He derided the college ratings system as a “taxpayer-funded popularity contest” that would “pick winners and losers.” “It’s not the job of the federal government,” Alexander said. “I have a serious practical concern with the department’s ability even to begin this effort.”

Meanwhile in the House, Congressmen Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Michael Capuano (D-MA) introduced a resolution Tuesday to oppose the president’s proposal to create a college ratings system. In a statement, Rep. Goodlatte said, “I have spoken with a number of college and university presidents who are concerned about the negative impact this proposal may have on higher education, and I share their concerns. The resolution introduced today strongly supports the quality and value of diversity in our higher education system and makes clear that the administration’s proposed college ratings system is not feasible and if attempted, would decrease choice, diversity, and innovation.”

Read More:
Top Senate Republican Seeks to Block College Ratings (Inside Higher Ed)