DC Digest – May 18, 2016

  • APPROPRIATIONS UPDATE: First bill passes Senate, House begins work
  • Administration Announces Final Rule on Overtime Pay
  • Research Community Analyzes Comments on “Common Rule”
  • Duke Signs Letter Urging Science Committee to Review Small Business Research Bill
  • Associations Thank Senator Burr for Bill to Boost College Savings
  • NSB Releases Brief Examining Benefits of Higher Ed Institutions
  • FAA Clarifies That Students May Fly Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Under Certain Conditions
  • Senate Approves Energy Authorization Bill with COMPETES Act Provisions

APPROPRIATIONS UPDATE: First bill passes Senate, House begins work
The congressional appropriations process has begun in earnest, with action likely to continue to build pace over the coming weeks. The Senate last week approved its FY17 Energy and Water funding bill-its first of the year-setting the stage for consideration this week of a combined FY17 appropriations package of Transportation-Housing and Military Construction-Veterans Affairs.

In the House, now that May 15 is past, budget rules allow Republican leaders to begin taking appropriations bills to the floor without an FY17 budget resolution. We expect to see a raft of appropriations bills moving through the process, beginning with Military Construction-Veterans Affairs. Also this week are subcommittee markups of the Defense and Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bills, both of which fund important research and higher education programs. (The latter bill funds the National Science Foundation and NASA.)

ADMINISTRATION ANNOUNCES FINAL RULE ON OVERTIME PAY
The U.S. Department of Labor has announced a change in regulations that will increase the number of employees at Duke and across the country who are eligible to receive overtime pay. The change increases the minimum salary threshold at which a position would be considered “exempt” from overtime pay from $23,660 per year to $47,476 per year.

“Duke has been closely monitoring the national discussions related to the proposed regulation and have been accessing the potential impact since it was recommended last year,” said Kyle Cavanaugh, vice president for Administration. “We are reviewing the details of the new regulation to determine which positions will become newly eligible for overtime.”

Up to 3,500 Duke Jobs Will Become Eligible for Overtime Pay (today.duke.edu)

RESEARCH COMMUNITY ANALYZES COMMENTS ON “COMMON RULE”
The research community has been concerned that the Obama administration would issue major changes to the “Common Rule” – the federal regulations governing the use of human subjects in research – that would not reflect concerns raised in comments by the public on the draft revisions. The Council on Governmental Relations (COGR), with support from the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), on May 9 released a comprehensive review and analysis of the more than 2,000 public comments submitted.

The analysis found that more than 95 percent of patients and members of the research community opposed one or more of the major proposed changes. Universities were particularly concerned about expanding the definition of “human subject” to include biospecimens.

COGR’s Analysis of Public Comments (cogr.edu)
Joint statement by COGR, APLU and AAU (aau.edu)

DUKE SIGNS LETTER URGING SCIENCE COMMITTEE TO REVIEW SMALL BUSINESS RESEARCH BILL
A group of more than 75 associations, universities, and professional societies, including AAU and Duke University, sent a letter to House Science Committee leaders on May 10 expressing opposition to a small business research bill approved by the House Small Business Committee and urging the panel to hold hearings on the measure.

The Commercializing Small Business Innovation Act of 2016 (  H.R. 4783), would raise the set-aside percentage for the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs at 12 federal science agencies, including the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

Letter to House Science Committee leaders (aau.edu)

ASSOCIATIONS THANK SENATOR BURR FOR BILL TO BOOST COLLEGE SAVINGS
A group of 13 higher education associations, including AAU, on May 12 sent a  letter to Senator Richard M. Burr (R-NC) thanking him for introducing legislation to improve the ability of students and their families to save for college.

The Boost Saving for College Act (  S. 2869) would expand the use of 529 college savings accounts by allowing low- and middle-income families to use the Saver’s Credit for contributions to 529 accounts, encouraging employers to match the college savings of their employees, permitting savings not needed for college to be rolled over into a Roth individual retirement account, and enabling families with disabled children to roll over a 529 account into an ABLE account for disability expenses.

Letter of Support for the Boost Saving for College Act (acenet.edu)

NSB RELEASES BRIEF EXAMINING BENEFITS OF HIGHER ED INSTITUTIONS
A new policy brief from the National Science Board reviews the public and private benefits of the nation’s higher education institutions, emphasizing the need for public investment in their research and educational missions. The report, “Higher Education as a Public Good,” describes the contributions of higher education to the nation’s economic prosperity, international competitiveness, and STEM literacy.

An accompanying “Sense of the Board” statement highlights higher education’s value in fostering a civically engaged society.

Higher Education as a Public Good (nationalscienceboard.com)

FAA CLARIFIES THAT STUDENTS MAY FLY SMALL UNMANNED AIRCRAFT SYSTEMS UNDER CERTAIN CONDITIONS
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on May 4 issued an interpretation of existing law and regulations that will make it easier for students to use small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) in their studies. Recognizing that sUAS are increasingly used for educational purposes, the interpretation clarifies that students at educational institutions no longer require a Section 333 exemption or other authorization to fly sUAS under certain conditions, as long as they follow model aircraft safety guidelines.

While this is positive news, the interpretation is limited and does not permit all types of sUAS flights on campuses. For example, flights conducted for a student’s coursework may not be associated with research projects or university business, and a faculty member’s operation of an sUAS may only be “incidental” to the student’s use.

Consequently, the higher education community will continue to work with the FAA, Congress, and the White House to provide a workable mechanism for institutions of higher education to safely conduct a full range of research and instructional activities using sUAS.

FAA memorandum on education use of UAS (faa.gov)

SENATE APPROVES ENERGY AUTHORIZATION BILL WITH COMPETES ACT PROVISIONS
The Senate on April 20 approved the bipartisan Energy Policy Modernization Act (S. 2012), which contains the  energy title of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act.

The bill would reauthorize the DOE Office of Science and ARPA-E for five years, including a seven-percent annual increase in authorized funding for basic energy sciences. The original draft bill called for a four-percent annual increase in funding, but that was raised to seven percent on the Senate floor by two amendments offered by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Richard Durbin (D-IL) and by Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI), reports Science.

Sens. Murkowski, Cantwell lead Senate Approval of Broad, Bipartisan Energy Bill (energy.senate.gov)