DC Digest – May 1, 2013

In Today’s Issue:

  • SENATE IMMIGRATION BILL PROPOSES SIGNIFICANT EMPLOYMENT-BASED REFORMS
  • PRESIDENT’S FY14 BUDGET PROPOSES MARKET-BASED INTEREST RATES ON STUDENT LOANS
  • DUKE FACULTY TESTIFY, OFFER EXPERTISE AT HEARING, BRIEFING 
  • COMMITTEE LEADERS CALL FOR FEEDBACK ON HIGHER EDUCATION REAUTHORIZATION 
  • COMMITTEE ON SCIENCE TO CONSIDER PROPOSAL TO AMEND NSF GRANT PROCEDURES
  • COMPETES ACT APPROACHING REAUTHORIZATION
  • FIFTY-TWO SENATORS URGE STRONGFY14 FUNDING FOR NIH
  • ASSOCIATIONS’ OFFER COMMENTS ON DUAL USE RESEARCH POLICY 
  • AAU EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER PROPOSED CHANGES TO EDUCATION OF BIOMEDICAL WORKFORCE  

 

SENATE IMMIGRATION BILL PROPOSES SIGNIFICANT EMPLOYMENT-BASED REFORMS
Immigration reform continued to gain momentum last week as Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) introduced the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, the result of long-standing talks between the bipartisan “Gang of Eight.” As introduced, the bill includes provisions allowing for an expedited path to citizenship for students who came to the United States as children without documentation and graduate from American high schools. Qualifying individuals would need to pass a criminal background check, graduate from high school (or receive a GED), and complete two years of post-secondary education, or spend four years in the military, or other uniformed services.

The proposals also seeks to attract and retain highly skilled and educated foreign nationals through more generous H-1B and employment-based green card quotas, but in exchange would impose an array of new obligations on H-1B and L-1 employers and substantially strengthen the enforcement authority of the Departments of Homeland Security and Labor. Increased visas, and a proposed increase in Green Card fees, could result in the federal government collecting an extra $150 million in fees, as reported by Education Week. Sixty percent of these funds will go to supporting scholarships to help low-income and minority students study science, technology, engineering, and math (aka STEM) in college. Another 12 percent would be directed to minority-serving institutions, such as historically black colleges, to help bolster their STEM programs.

Under the proposal, the cap for H-1B visas would rise from 65,000 to 110,000 — plus an additional 25,000 visas for individuals holding master’s degrees from American institutions, which is of particular interest to the university community. However, the bill increases the fees for employers with large shares of H-1B holders and prohibits any employer from hiring more than 50% of their workforce from individuals holding these visas.

Read More:
Immigration Bill Would Help DREAMERs, Boost STEM (Ed Week)
Side-by-side comparison of proposals from 2006, 2007, and 2013 (Migration Policy Institute)

PRESIDENT’S FY14 BUDGET PROPOSES MARKET-BASED INTEREST RATES ON STUDENT LOANS
When President Obama submitted his FY14 budget request to Congress on April 10, it included proposed changes to student aid that have earned criticism from student leadership groups. One recommendation drawing fire is President Obama’s proposal to switch the interest rate on student loans from a fixed rate to a market-based rate. Initially, this recommendation would result in most students seeing a decrease in their student loan interest rates; however, the proposal does not set a cap on how high the market-based interest rate could go, creating concern among student groups.  Currently, the interest rates are set by statute and rates on the Stafford student loans are scheduled to increase from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent on July 1, 2013.

The President’s recommendation includes provisions maintaining subsidized loans for low-income undergraduate students with a lower interest rate.

Read more:
Back to Market-Based rates (Inside Higher Ed)
Obama Proposal on Student Loans Draws Fire (Education Week)

 

DUKE FACULTY TESTIFY, OFFER EXPERTISE AT HEARING, BRIEFING
Two members of the Duke faculty appeared on Capitol Hill last week, offering expert perspectives on climate change and disaster response. Dr. Bill Chameides, Dean of the Nicholas School of the Environment, testified before the Subcommittee on the Environment during a hearing entitled “Policy-Relevant Climate Issues in Context.” Dr. Chameides appeared through his role as the vice-chair of the report America’s Climate Choices.

Dr. Elizabeth Frankenberg, Professor of Sociology and Public Policy, participated in a panel discussing Social Science Research on Disasters: Communication, Resilience, and Consequences. During the briefing, Dr. Frankenberg presented findings from her research on the 2004 tsunami. The briefing, sponsored by the Coalition for National Science Funding, was coordinated to highlight research supported by the National Science Foundation.

Read more: 
Dr. Chameides testimony (duke.edu/federalrelations)
Dr. Chameides blogs about testifying (nicholas.duke.edu)
Mission statement of the Coalition for National Science Funding
Dr. Frankenberg testifying (Duke Federal Relations)

 

COMMITTEE LEADERS CALL FOR FEEDBACK ON HIGHER EDUCATION ACT REAUTHORIZATION
In an open letter to the higher education community, the leaders of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce last week issued a call for comments and suggestions for policy changes to the Higher Education Act. The letter outlines issues the committee plans to explore during the reauthorization process, including:

• Empowering students as consumers in higher education,
• Simplifying and improving the student aid and loan programs,
• Increasing college accessibility, affordability, and completion,
• Encouraging institutions to reduce costs,
• Promoting innovation to improve access to and delivery of higher education, and
• Balancing the need for accountability with the burden of federal requirements.

Read more: 
Text of the letter from Committee and Subcommittee Chair and Ranking Members (edworkforce.house.gov)

 

COMMITTEE ON SCIENCE TO CONSIDER PROPOSAL TO AMEND NSF GRANT PROCECURES
The Duke Office of Federal Relations is closely monitoring a recently released discussion draft of the High Quality Research Act, which includes provisions that, if implemented, would replace peer review at the National Science Foundation and open the door to changing the way the federal government distributes research grants.

The proposed legislation would require that NSF-funded research projects address the “advancement of national health, prosperity, welfare and national security,” and that they be of “utmost importance to society.” The propoasl would replace the current system of peer review and input from experts across all fields of science for awarding federal research grants.

In addition to instituting changes for grant funding at the NSF, the High Quality Research Act would call upon the OSTP Director to submit a report one year after enactment that would recommend how the new requirements could be applied at other Federal agencies.

Read More:
NSF Peer Review Under Scrutiny by House Science Panel (Science Magazine)
A Congressman’s Own Peer Review (Inside Higher Ed)

 

COMPETES ACT APPROACHING REAUTHORIZATION
A group of academic, business and scientific organizations have sent key members of Congress a set of principles for guiding the upcoming reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act, which expires at the end of 2013.

First signed into law in 2007, the America COMPETES Act was a response to the National Academies’ Report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm. The report highlighted the importance of the U.S. science and technology enterprise to economic development and global competitiveness, and focused on research and other activities at the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

Read More: 
Guiding Principles for COMPETES Reauthorization (AAU.edu)

 

FIFTY-TWO SENATORS URGE STRONG FY14 FUNDING FOR NIH
A bipartisan group of 52 Senators on April 26 sent Senate appropriators a letter urging them to maintain a strong commitment to funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the FY14 Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill.  The letter, led by Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Richard Burr (R-NC), said, “If we are to improve the health of Americans and the quality of their lives, we must continue to invest in areas like biomedical research that have the potential to save money in the future, improve the lives of Americans, and offer an economic return for our Nation.”

Read More:
Text of Letter from Senators (pdf)

 

ASSOCIATIONS OFFER COMMENTS ON DUAL-USE RESEARCH POLICY
Higher education associations submitted comments to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy last week regarding the federal government’s draft Policy for Institutional Oversight of Life Sciences Dual Use Research of Concern (DURC).

The associations’ comments express appreciation for the balance that the policy’s guiding principles seek to strike between allowing critical life science research to advance while mitigating associated risks, and for its recognition that “the proposed oversight requires careful and thoughtful handling of complex scientific challenges.”  The comments urge the government “to carefully evaluate the impact of the new policy on life sciences research when making decisions to renew or expand its implementation.”  They also provide specific recommendations about the oversight responsibilities of principal investigators, institutions, and federal agencies.

Read More
Letter addressed to Office of Science and Technology

 

AAU EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER PROPOSED CHANGES TO EDUCATION OF BIOMEDICAL WORKFORCE
In comments submitted to the NIH, AAU responded to an NIH advisory panel’s recommendations for addressing issues in the education and training of the biomedical research workforce.

In general, the association expressed agreement that it is useful for graduate students and postdocs to create Individual Development Plans (IDPs) with their mentors in order to guide their career paths, but the association urges that IDPs not become an accountability exercise that reduces their value in fostering genuine mentorship.  Additionally, the comments expressed concern that the proposed cap on support of doctoral students would create incentives for sloppy scholarship as graduate students feel driven to complete their research in a pre-set timeframe.  Furthermore, the association raised concerns about setting minimum benefits for postdocs, which are complicated by such external factors as state laws and union negotiations; describes the practical challenges in collecting certain types of data on graduate students; cautions against defining too narrowly what constitutes career success outside of academia; and urges NIH not to further reduce salary support in research grants.

Read More:
Full text of letter to NIH