DC Digest — June 3, 2014

In Today’s Issue

  • This Week in Washington
  • House Approves FY15 Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations Bill
  • Rep. David Price Offers Strong Defense of Social Science Research
  • House Science Committee Approves FIRST Act
  • Senators Urge Strong Funding for Defense Basic Research
  • House Ways and Means Committee Approves IRA Charitable Deduction Extension
  • U.S. Releases Data on Distance Education Enrollments

Veteran Affairs: Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-VT) unveiled a broad proposal Sunday to revamp health care for 6.5 million veterans as the department faces an expanding investigation into the way care is provided at VA medical facilities. A hearing on the proposal will occur Thursday, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), has said the Senate could move quickly to vote on it.

EPA Issues Call for GHG Reductions: On Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed mandating power plants to cut U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions 30% by 2030 from levels of 25 years earlier, an ambitious target that marks the first-ever attempt at limiting such pollution. The rule-making proposal sets in motion the main piece of President Barack Obama’s climate-change agenda and is designed to give states and power companies flexibility in reaching the target.

Obama to Meet World Leaders in Europe: President Obama travels to Poland, Belgium, and France to meet with leaders from the region and mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day. During the trip,  Obama will promote economic cooperation, energy security, and solidarity among NATO and Group of Seven nations. He’ll meet with Ukraine’s Petro Poroshenko, newly elected to become president, and underscore the benefits for Russia if it leaves Ukraine free to pursue its own path.

Read More:
Senator unveils proposal to revamp VA health care (USA Today)
Obama Proposes Deep Cuts to Power-Plant Emissions (Bloomberg)
With Ukraine Still Unsettled, Obama Sets Off to Soothe European Friends (NY Times)

The House on May 29 approved the FY15 Commerce-Justice-Science (C-J-S) appropriations bill (H.R. 4660), which funds the National Science Foundation (NSF) and NASA.

Despite reduced overall funding in the bill, the House Appropriations Committee approved a three-percent increase for NSF and a one-percent increase for NASA. The House sustained the committee-approved funding levels for both agencies, but Members voted to move $7 million in NASA funding from Space Operations to Space Technology.

During consideration of the bill, House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) offered an amendment that they said would take $15.3 million out of the NSF Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (SBE) Directorate and reallocate it to other research directorates.

However, because appropriators fund NSF research through the broad category of Research and Related Activities and not at the level of individual research directorates, the Smith-Cantor amendment has no practical effect but gave Members the opportunity to criticize the NSF grant-making process and specific grants in the social and behavioral sciences.

Speaking on the House floor in support of NSF social sciences research were Science Committee Ranking Member Chaka Fattah (D-PA) and Reps. David Price (D-NC) and Rush Holt (D-NJ), all of whom discussed examples of social, political, and economics research that have made important contributions to the economy and public life.

Read More:
House Passes Fy15 CJS Appropriations Bill (appropriations.house.gov)
Smith-Cantor Amendment (science.house.gov)
Symbolic Slap at Social Sciences (insidehighered)

As mentioned in the above item, during last week’s consideration of the FY 15 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations bill, an amendment was offered targeting the Social, Behavioral and Economic (SBE) Sciences directorate at NSF.  The amendment was yet another attempt to question the value of federally-funded social science research.  Rep. David Price (NC), who remains a member of the faculty at Duke, took to the floor of the House to offer a powerful defense for these programs.

A link to the full statement is below, but one particularly strong fact from Mr. Price’s speech is this: nearly a quarter of NSF-funded Nobel Prize winners in science since 1951 have been recipients of SBE program grants.

Read More:
Rep. David Price Offers Strong Defense of Social Science Research (governmentrelations.duke.edu)


The House Science, Space, and Technology (SST) Committee on May 28 approved the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science and Technology Act (FIRST Act), legislation to reauthorize programs in NSF and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST), as well as STEM education programs. The bill (H.R. 4186), authored by Committee Chairman Smith, was approved on a party-line vote of 20-16.

 The bill would cap overall funding for NSF below the level of inflation, impose new grant conditions on the agency’s peer review system, and target the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences and the Geosciences directorates for significant cuts in authorized funding. During committee consideration, the panel approved an additional $50 million cut in authorized funding for SBE, on top of the $56 million cut in the underlying bill.

The committee made an important improvement in the bill regarding public access. Members approved by voice vote an amendment offered by Reps. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) to lower the embargo period for public access to the results of federally funded research from the basic embargo period of 24 months to 12 months.

Read More:
AAU Statement Expressing Opposition to FIRST Act (pdf)

A group of 18 Senators, led by Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), sent a letter to the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense urging strong, sustained support for Department of Defense (DOD) basic research.

The letter emphasizes the importance of DOD basic research (1) in laying the groundwork for applied research and technology development programs that lead to higher performance defense systems; (2) as an investment in universities, small businesses, and government laboratories; and (3) for helping DOD engage with and support the next generation of scientists and engineers, many of whom will work in DOD research organizations and industry.

Read More:
Levin Letter Urging Strong Funding for Defense Basic Research (pdf)

The House Ways and Means Committee on May 29 approved legislation that would extend permanently the IRA charitable deduction. The committee voted to approve the Permanent IRA Charitable Contribution Act of 2014 (H.R. 4619) by a vote of 23-14.

Read More:
Bill for Permanent Tax Deduction of Charitable Gifts from IRAs Sails through House  Panel (investmentnews.com)

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released on Monday the clearest breakdown of students enrolled in distance education courses in the United States to date.

The statistics themselves are not new, but the findings according to region, sector and state are. The NCES, a part of the U.S. Department of Education, maintains the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, which collects data from the institutions eligible for Title IV financial aid. In 2012, the system for the first time asked colleges and universities about online enrollment, and earlier this year, the center began to tease preliminary data.