May 4, 2016


VU on the Hill – April 2016

Both House and Senate are moving forward with the FY 17 appropriations process, each having released four of the twelve appropriations bills. Of particular interest to Vanderbilt, the Commerce-Justice-Science bill is moving in the Senate and the Energy-Water bills are progressing in both chambers. Both Energy bills contain a $50 million, or 1 percent, increase for the Department of Energy's Office of Science (though the components of the Office of Science were funded differently in each bill). The Senate Science bill contained a very slight ($46 million, less than 1 percent) increase for the National Science Foundation (NSF), and an even smaller ($21 million) increase for NASA. Please contact the Office of Federal Relations for further details on the appropriations process.

On April 6, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, chaired by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), passed a package of five biomedical innovation bills focused on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These measures included S. 2742, which includes provisions aimed at reducing the regulatory burden on federally-funded researchers. The bipartisan bill implements recommendations made by a National Academies study commissioned by Sen. Alexander that looked at federal research regulations. The HELP Committee also approved measures aimed at helping the FDA and NIH continue to attract and retain a qualified, high-talent workforce and establishing in law the Precision Medicine Initiative. The Committee leadership is now attempting to negotiate a legislative package that combines these and earlier processed bills, and potentially provide a "surge" in mandatory funding to the NIH for priority areas like Precision Medicine and the Cancer Moonshot.

After being stalled on the Senate floor for almost three months, the Senate approved the Energy Policy Modernization Act, which contains the energy title of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act, on April 20. The bill would reauthorize the DOE Office of Science and ARPA-E for five years, including a seven percent annual increase in authorized funding.

Office of Federal Relations activities and meetings this month have included:

  • Senior Health Policy Advisor to Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Kristi Thompson, visited VUMC for meetings and facilities tours focused largely on Vanderbilt's leadership in precision medicine.

  • Anita Mahadevan-Jansen, professor of biomedical engineering and neurological surgery, met with staffers for the Tennessee congressional delegation to express support for the U.S. National Photonics Initiative and federal investments in science and engineering research. Mahadevan-Jansen came to Washington as a board member of SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics.

  • Bob Moran, deputy education policy director of the Senate HELP Committee, visited Vanderbilt to discuss ongoing efforts to reduce regulatory burdens on institutions of higher education. He also stopped by the School of Engineering's Senior Design Day.

  • Jason Valentine, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, participated in an NSF advocacy day, meeting with congressional staff from Tennessee offices as well as other key appropriations offices to discuss his research and advocate for sustained, steady funding for research agencies such as NSF, DOD and DOE.

  • Barbara Carroll, associate vice chancellor for human resources, joined her counterpart from the University of Tennessee to explain to Members of the Tennessee delegation the potential impact of an expected Fair Labor Standards Act rule from the Dept. of Labor on university campuses and services.

If you have been on Capitol Hill, please let us know so we can highlight your activity. In addition to serving as the primary federal advocacy office for the University, the Office of Federal Relations helps coordinate meetings for campus officials on Capitol Hill as well as crafting and refining an effective advocacy message. Please don't hesitate to contact us if we can be of assistance. (Office of Federal Relations – May 2, 2016)

Higher Education News:

Associations Submit Comments on Teacher Preparation Regulations

The Department of Education issued a supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) on March 31 to address issues raised by the higher education community regarding the Department's proposed regulations on the treatment of distance teacher-preparation programs. The higher education community has identified serious problems with the March 31 supplemental NPRM and has spelled them out in joint comments to the Department, submitted on April 28. The associations' comments outline three broad areas of concern:

  1. TEACH Grant eligibility would depend on an institution's not being classified by any single state as low-performing or at risk of being low performing, thus giving any state veto over TEACH eligibility for the entire country;

  2. State reporting requirements are convoluted and would be burdensome for institutions; and

  3. The supplemental NPRM fails to add needed clarity in other areas, such as the definition of "distance education," which is likely to create new areas of uncertainty for students and institutions.

The letter concludes:

"While we strongly share the Department's goals of improving teacher preparation and ensuring that America's educators succeed, the proposals contained in the supplemental NPRM would undermine those aims and instead result in the introduction of significant confusion and negative unintended consequences. In this way, the approaches identified in the supplemental NPRM mirror the broader regulatory package, and we would repeat the request made in our earlier comments that this effort be abandoned. This is particularly relevant in light of the recent passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act, which bars the Department from prescribing the structure of state teacher evaluation systems." (Association of American Universities - April 29, 2016)

*** See also, the following related news item:
No One Rule Fits All - Inside Higher Ed - May 3, 2016

Education Dept. Grants Researchers More Data Access

The U.S. Department of Education will offer researchers new access to federal data for studies that "can inform and advance policies and practices that support students' postsecondary success and strengthen repayment outcomes for borrowers," the White House announced last week. The pilot program will allow experts -- starting with Federal Reserve Board researchers this fall -- to apply to access and match student-aid data files with other surveys and administrative data, the Obama administration said, while keeping data safeguards in place. (Inside Higher Ed - May 2, 2016)

Federal Default Rate Adjustment List Published

The Wall Street Journal on Friday published an article revealing the 21 colleges that benefited from an adjustment the U.S. Department of Education made to the institutions' student loan default rates. The department had not disclosed which colleges received the controversial default-rate tweaks, even when members of the U.S. Congress asked. The newspaper filed a Freedom of Information Act request to get the list, as did Inside Higher Ed, unsuccessfully. But the department mistakenly released the information to the Journal.  (Inside Higher Ed - May 2, 2016)

Education Dept. Releases Title IX Exemptions, Requests

The Education Department is now making public a list of all the colleges and universities that have received religious exemptions to parts of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The department is also making public a list of those currently requesting the exemptions. The Education Department has to date responded to requests about whether given colleges have asked for or received exemptions, but the new webpage with all of the lists means that someone could check on any college. (Inside Higher Ed - May 2, 2016)

Other News:

House Committee Approves Bill to Strengthen IHEs & DHS

On Thursday, the House Homeland Security Committee approved legislation that would seek to establish closer ties among the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), institutions of higher education, and states. The bill formally grants DHS authority to work with the National Cybersecurity Preparedness Consortium, a coalition of five universities, to train state and local first responders. It also requires DHS to reach out to other universities to collaborate on state and local response to cyber incidents. (Council of Graduate Schools - April 29, 2016)

Items of Note:


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