DC Digest – May 12, 2017

In Today’s Issue:
  • Higher Ed Federal News Recap
  • Talking NIH Budget with White House
  • ARPA-E Money
  • New Head of FDA Confirmed


Higher Education Act Reauthorization
Earlier this week Education Secretary Betsy DeVos questioned whether Congress should reauthorize the main federal law governing higher education, saying lawmakers should instead “start afresh.” This sets up a possible confrontation with Sen. Lamar Alexander and Rep. Virginia Foxx, the Republican chairs of the Congressional education committees. Both have been on-record that reauthorizing the Higher Education Act is a top priority for their committees.

Department Staffs Up
The Trump administration has made about three dozen political appointments to the Education Department. A list of appointees was obtained by POLITICO through a Freedom of Information Act request. The department has 150 political vaccencies, so this list fills roughly a quarter of the openings.

College Loan Interst Rate Hike
For the coming academic year the interest rates on new undergraduate student loans will increase to 4.45 percent, up from 3.76 percent. For graduate students, the rate on direct loans will rise to 6 percent from this year’s 5.31 percent. And the interest rates on federal PLUS loans — both for graduate students or parents paying for their children’s education — will be 7 percent, up from the current 6.31 percent.


Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Richard Burr (R-NC) are circulating a sign-on letter among their Senate colleagues to encourage Senate appropriators to “maintain a strong commitment to funding” for the National Institutes of Health in FY18. Senators who have already signed on are: Tammy Baldwin, Richard Blumenthal, Cory Booker, Sherrod Brown, Richard Burr, Ben Cardin, Tom Carper, Robert Casey, Susan Collins, Joe Donnelly, Tammy Duckworth, Richard Durbin, Al Franken, Cory Gardner, Kamala Harris, Mazie Hirono, James Inhofe, Tim Kaine, Amy Klobuchar, Joe Manchin, Edward Markey, Robert Menendez, Chris Murphy, Bill Nelson, David Perdue, Brian Schatz, Jeanne Shaheen, Debbie Stabenow, Thom Tillis, Chris Van Hollen, Sheldon Whitehouse.

At the other end of Pennsylvania Ave. NIH Director Francis Collins and biotech leaders joined VP Mike Pence and other Trump Administration staff to discuss why private investment can’t substitute for NIH’s support for basic research at academic institutions. “By far the overwhelming message was the critical role of NIH in supporting fundamental biomedical research that has laid the foundation” for new diagnostics and therapeutics, says human geneticist Rick Lifton, president of The Rockefeller University in New York City.

Biotech leaders and academics talk NIH


POLITICO is reporting – Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson wants federal watchdogs to investigate whether the Energy Department is illegally withholding funding under the ARPA-E program, Darius Dixon reports. Sources told POLITICO last month that the agency was withholding money on grants already approved under ARPA-E, which selects technology projects and awards funding as those ventures meet development milestones. But those sources said even projects that received initial approval were being denied additional payments, regardless of whether they met their milestones because of a “procurement hold” or “no contract action.”


Scott Gottlieb was confirmed to lead the FDA by a vote of 57-42 in the Seante earlier this week. Stat News has this brief story on the confirmation and what it might mean for FDA policies moving ahead.