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Washington Update: FAA Announcements on Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Global Food Security Bills, and More

The FAA makes announcements on Unmanned Aircraft Systems; the IRS delays mandatory “Amounts Received” 1098-T reporting; APLU weighs in on global food security bills; and House Committee passes bill to increase oversight of NSF major research facilities.

FAA Announcements on Unmanned Aircraft Systems
On May 4, 2016, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a legal interpretation on the educational use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). The FAA interpretation states that students at accredited educational institutions may modify and operate UAS as part of their coursework. Universities will no longer need a Section 333 exemption for students to fly UAS, as long as the students follow model aircraft rules. The interpretation indicates that university faculty teaching a class in which students use unmanned aircraft may provide limited assistance to students operating UAS as a part of the course. This legal interpretation is limited to educational use and does not provide regulatory relief for UAS research at universities. Additionally, the proposed rule on small UAS is still pending.

Also on May 4, 2016, the FAA announced the establishment of a long-term advisory committee to develop policy and guidelines on the safe integration of unmanned aircraft system (UAS) into the national airspace system. The Drone Advisory Council (DAC), led by Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, is expected to identify and prioritize integration challenges and solutions of using UAS, including many of the roadblocks faced by universities. More information about the DAC, including how to indicate interest in participating can be found here.

APLU continues to advocate for regulatory and legislative solutions that will help universities conduct UAS research and education activities.

IRS Announces Delay in Mandatory “Amounts Received” 1098-T Report
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recently announced that institutions of higher education will not be penalized in Tax Year 2016 for reporting “amounts billed” on 1098-Ts. The 1098-T form serves as verification of a student’s enrollment status and delineates the portion of a student’s charges that are “qualified tuition and related expenses.” A provision in the omnibus tax package passed in 2015, the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act, removed the ability of institutions to choose to report either “amounts billed” or “amounts received,” instead requiring the reporting of “amounts received.”

APLU, the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO), and others wrote to the IRS in March to request a delay of implementation noting substantial challenges given many universities’ systems do not yet have the ability to accommodate such reporting.

APLU Weighs in on Global Food Security Bills
APLU President Peter McPherson sent letters to the Senate and House leadership in support of S. 1252 and H.R. 1567, each chamber’s version of the Global Food Security Act. Although APLU has endorsed both bills, the letters expresses APLU’s preference for the higher education language in the Senate bill.

Both S. 1252 and H.R. 1567, which have passed their respective chambers in recent weeks, would authorize an all-of-government comprehensive global food security strategy. APLU’s efforts were instrumental in ensuring that both bills include the role of U.S. universities in international agriculture research, such as through the Feed the Future Innovation Labs, which bring universities in the U.S. and developing nations together to help solve critical food security challenges. APLU has also worked to strengthen language in the bills relative to partnerships between U.S. universities and institutions in developing countries. APLU prefers the Senate bill for its stronger language on university partnerships in addition to its two-year authorization as compared to one year in the House bill. The House and Senate continue to negotiate the path forward for the Global Food Security Act.

House Committee Passes Bill to Increase Oversight of NSF Major Research Facilities
The House Committee on Science, Space and Technology passed H.R. 5049, the National Science Foundation (NSF) Major Research Facility Reform Act of 2016. According to the Committee, “the bill improves the management and oversight of major multi-user research facilities funded by the NSF.” The bill provisions include, among others, that the NSF Director maintain a Large Facilities Office to support the directorates during the development, implementation, and evaluation of major research facilities; that the Director appoint a senior official to oversee major research facilities; and that new policies related to the costs of these facilities are implemented.

The legislation was introduced by Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Barry Loudermilk (R-GA), who said that the bill would help “restore confidence in federally-funded research projects.”

  • Council on Governmental Affairs

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