DC Digest – March 24, 2016

In this Issue:

  • Senate Confirms John King as Secretary of Education
  • Senate Commerce Committee Okays FAA Bill with sUAS Language for Higher Education
  • Budget Updates: House Committee Approves Resolution; Blog Breaks Down the President’s Proposal
  • Appropriations Updates: House Subcommittee Set to Begin Mark-Ups
  • Missy Cummings, Pratt Prof, Testifies before Senate Committee
  • DHS Publishes Final Rule on OPT Program

SENATE CONFIRMS JOHN KING AS SECRETARY OF EDUCATION
The Senate on March 14 confirmed John King, Jr. as Secretary of Education. The vote was 49 to 40, with seven Republicans, including Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN), voting in favor of his confirmation. Chairman Alexander issued this  statementabout Dr. King’s confirmation.

SENATE COMMERCE COMMITTEE OKAYS FAA BILL WITH SUAS LANGUAGE FOR HIGHER EDUCATION
On March 16, the Senate Commerce Committee approved by voice vote the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Modernization Act of 2016 (S. 2658). The approved measure includes language negotiated by Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) on the use of unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) at institutions of higher education.

The higher education sUAS language directs the FAA administrator to establish risk-based procedures and standards to streamline applications for the operation of sUAS at “institutions of higher education in an academic setting.” The amendment is intended to facilitate the use of sUAS by colleges and universities for purposes of instructing students and conducting research projects and other activities, including general research, engineering, robotics, and data collection.

Peters’ Amendments to FAA Bill Pass in Commerce Committee (peters.senate.gov)

BUDGET UPDATES: HOUSE COMMITTEE APPROVES RESOLUTION, BREAKING DOWN THE PRESIDENT’S PROPOSAL
Late last week, the House Budget Committee marked up the FY17 budget resolution released March 15 by Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-GA). While the measure abides by the discretionary spending levels set for FY17 in last year’s two-year budget deal, it also calls for major cuts in nondefense discretionary spending over the following nine years and $30 billion in mandatory spending cuts over two years. The Association of American Universities released a statement criticizing the resolution for the deep cuts to non-defense discretionary funds, which would affect investments in research and higher education funding.

Chairman Price’s resolution is the House’s response to President Obama’s proposal, which the White House released on Feb. 8 and which contained top-line increases for agencies responsible for research funding. To learn more about the President’s proposal, and the funding mechanisms behind the proposed increases, please see the Office of Government Relations blog post, entitled “When a Budget Increase Really Isn’t What it Appears to Be.”

AAU Statement on House FY17 Budget (aau.edu)

APPROPRIATIONS: House Subcommittees Set to Begin Mark-Ups
Although the House has not approved its FY17 budget resolution, House appropriators marked up the FY17 Military Construction-Veterans Affairs (MilCon-VA) bill in subcommittee on Wednesday, March 23, reports Politico. It passed with bipartisan support. No other subcommittee markups are scheduled. MilCon-VA Subcommittee chairman Charlie Dent (R-PA) told the publication that funding would be provided according to the discretionary spending levels agreed to in last year’s budget deal.

Meanwhile, the Subcommittee on Labor, HHS, Education and Related Agencies on March 16 held it’s annual hearing with National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins and four NIH institute directors. Subcommittee Chairman Tom Cole (R-OK) pledged to increase FY17 NIH funding and to maintain the subcommittee’s strong bipartisan support of NIH.  He and other Republican and Democratic members of the subcommittee rejected the President’s proposal to increase NIH funding with mandatory spending.

Senate ‘Cures’ package adds White House, FDA-friendly proposals (Politico)

MISSY CUMMINGS, PRATT PROF, TESTIFIES BEFORE SENATE COMMITTEE
Last week, Missy Cummings, professor of mechanical engineering and materials science and professor of electrical and computer engineering, provided testimony before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation during a hearing entitled “Hands Off: The Future of Self-Driving Cars.” Cummings joined a panel of industry experts to discuss the technological and regulatory environment of the autonomous systems.

Link to webcast of hearing (commerce.senate.gov)

DHS PUBLISHES FINAL RULE ON STEM OPT PROGRAM
Last week, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published its final rule on the STEM Optional Practical Training (OPT) program. The new rule will take effect on May 10. Additional information and analysis will be provided as they become available.

DHS also today unveiled the STEM OPT Hub, a new online information resource for students, higher education institutions, and employers.

Final Rule on STEM Optional Practical Training (OPT) (federalregister.gov)