August 18, 2014


AAU, APLU Urge Strong Support in FY16 Budget for Research, Higher Education 

The Association of American Universities (AAU) and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) today urged newly confirmed Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan to "uphold the President's commitments to federal investments in higher education and research" in the Administration's FY16 budget, which is in the early stages of development. In a letter to Donovan, AAU President Hunter Rawlings and APLU President Peter McPherson wrote, "Sustained increases above inflation in these investments are vital to closing the nation's innovation deficit as well as promoting the long-term economic growth necessary to reduce federal budget deficits." (Association of American Universities - Aug. 15, 2014)

Supporting the Sex Assault Bill

In announcing bipartisan campus sexual assault legislation earlier this month, Senator Claire McCaskill suggested that colleges could either protest the scrutiny or get on board with the effort. While acknowledging that colleges have a moral and legal obligation to root out sexual violence on their campus, some higher education advocates in Washington said that the bill is mostly too heavy-handed. Some individual colleges and university systems, though, are opting for a different approach: they're either embracing the legislation outright or cautiously deferring judgment on it, careful not to be dismissive of the concerns about sexual assault animating the legislative effort. (Inside Higher Ed - Aug. 15, 2014)

U.S. Education Department Awards Almost $4 Million in Grants to Help Prepare Graduate Students for Leadership in Special Education

The U.S. Department of Education announced today the award of almost $4 million in grants to higher education institutions to prepare graduate students for leadership positions in special education, early intervention and related services. With many college professors and administrators in special education facing retirement in the coming years, shortages are expected. Some of these grants will help train future leaders at the doctoral and postdoctoral levels to fill faculty positions in special education, early intervention and related services. Other grants will help prepare scholars to serve as supervisors of personnel providing direct services to infants and children with disabilities. [Vanderbilt is the recipient of three awards totaling nearly $750, 000.] (U.S. Department of Education - Aug. 14, 2014)

Obamacare Revives an Old Question: Are Student Workers Employees?

Beginning in 2015, the [Affordable Care Act] law will require businesses with more than 99 employees to provide health insurance to at least 70 percent of their workers who log 30 hours a week or more. That number jumps to 95 percent in 2016. In anticipation of this mandate and its costs, a number of colleges are scrambling to keep student workers -- undergraduate and graduate -- under the 30-hour threshold, leaving some . . . in the lurch. But a rule change may be on the horizon. Late last month, two Republican lawmakers proposed nearly identical bills that would exempt universities from the Affordable Care Act's employer mandate in the case of "full-time students." (Chronicle of Higher Education - Aug. 18, 2014)

Doctors Press Extension to Physician Database Deadline

The American Medical Association pushed the administration Friday to delay launching a database that would let the public see if their doctors have conflicts of interest with drug and device makers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention took its Open Payments System offline last week after it found in some cases that doctors with identical names could see each other's profiles. However, on Friday Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said the system had been fixed and was on track to be publicly released on Sept. 30. (The Hill - Aug. 15, 2014)

Number of Providers Facing Stage 2 EHR Hurdle Puts Billions at Stake

Billions of dollars in federal electronic health-record incentive payments appear to be in jeopardy as hospitals, physicians and other eligible professionals who got an early start on the payment program face a more stringent set of criteria this year, according to a Modern Healthcare analysis of new [Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services] data. So far, only a tiny fraction of participants have met the benchmarks. (Modern Healthcare - Aug. 15, 2014)

Universities Chase Big Defense Dollars

Some of the nation's most elite universities are deep into defense lobbying, often hiring Washington-based firms to press Congress and the Pentagon to fund their science projects. It's all about Big Research and Big Money. And some colleges benefit from big-ticket defense programs. And dozens of universities reported lobbying for their slice of the pie during the previous quarter. And like traditional defense contractors, [the Association of American Universities] has been sounding the alarm about further rounds of sequestration -- the federal spending cuts that could return in fiscal 2016 and would affect weapons contracts as well as basic research funding. (Politico - Aug. 13, 2014)

Energy Department Invests More Than $55 Million to Advance Efficient Vehicle Technologies

As part of the Obama Administration's efforts to reduce dependence on foreign oil and transition to a clean energy economy, the Energy Department today announced more than $55 million for 31 new projects to accelerate research and development of critical vehicle technologies that will improve fuel efficiency and reduce costs. These new projects are aimed at meeting the goals and objectives of the President's EV Everywhere Grand Challenge, as well as improvements in other vehicle technologies such as powertrains, fuel, tires and auxiliary systems. (U.S. Department of Energy - Aug. 14, 2014)

U.S. Energy Agency Jumps Into Fusion Funding

ARPA-E, the U.S. government agency for funding innovative energy technologies, is preparing to launch a program to support alternative approaches to fusion energy that have the potential to steal a march on existing mainstream projects. The news will come as a relief to some fusion researchers at government labs, who had their funding cut completely in this fiscal year because of the ballooning cost of the U.S. contribution to the international ITER fusion reactor project in France. And it will offer an opportunity to a small number of privately funded fusion efforts that are proposing alternatives to traditional tokamaks and laser fusion approaches. (ScienceInsider - Aug. 14, 2014)

Chikungunya Threat Inspires New DARPA Challenge

The research branch of the U.S. Department of Defense wants to know when and where the next outbreak of the mosquito-borne chikungunya virus will occur, and it's offering $150,000 for the best new approach. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) today announced its first health-related challenge, which asks scientific teams to forecast over 6 months how the debilitating disease might spread in the Americas and the Caribbean. (ScienceInsider - Aug. 15, 2014)

Patent Overhaul Effort Stalls

The patent overhaul effort has expired. Legal experts say the likelihood of the full Congress revisiting the issue before the election in November is slim. In May, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., pulled the plug on a bill that was close to being sent to the full Senate, all but ending the best shot at passing a reform bill this session to help stem the flood of costly patent litigation facing American corporations. The failure of that effort came after success in the House. Last December, the House overwhelmingly passed a bill that would have added new responsibilities on plaintiffs filing patent-infringement suits. A more modest bill is still pending in a House committee, but reform proponents are mainly setting their sights on reviving efforts early next year, after the 114th Congress is installed. (Wall Street Journal - Aug. 17, 2014)

Federal Agencies Provide New Opportunities for Dying Languages

The National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) recently announced 27 awards totaling more than $4 million in the 10th round of a joint effort to document languages threatened with extinction. These new awards, part of an NSF-NEH Documenting Endangered Languages program, support digital documentation work on nearly 40 endangered languages. They build research infrastructure, encourage long term collaboration with host countries and involve significant community engagement. (National Science Foundation - Aug. 15, 2014)

Google Executive Who Ran Pentagon Agency Under Scrutiny in Ethics Case

A Google executive who previously ran a $3 billion Pentagon agency tasked with developing technology for the U.S. military violated ethics rules by pitching products from a company she had previously founded, according to a report released Wednesday by the Pentagon's watchdog agency. Regina E. Dugan, who ran the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency from July 2009 until March 2012, was cited by the Defense Department Inspector General's office for endorsing a specific product, service or enterprise, a breach of ethics. (Washington Post - Aug. 15, 2014)


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