Outlook for USICA/Futures Competitiveness Legislation
House Speaker Pelosi has unveiled a new 2,900 page America COMPETES Act of 2022. The new legislation is a companion piece to the U.S. Innovation and Competitiveness Act passed by the Senate in 2021. In a press release, Speaker Pelosi noted “The House legislation will supercharge our investment in CHIPS, advance manufacturing at home, strengthen our supply chain, transform our research capacity and advance our competitiveness and leadership abroad, plus many other key provisions.”
House Democrats provided an extensive section by section of the bill and fact sheet describing aspects of the bill. The House contains $52 million to support domestic semiconductor manufacturing and would authorize new programs at the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
The House plans to bring the bill to the House floor as early as next week and will set the stage for a formal conference with the Senate. House and Senate leadership hope to reach a final agreement later this spring.
Biden Administration Announces Actions to Attract STEM Talent
The Biden administration announced new actions to “attract global talent to strengthen our economy and technological competitiveness” and “advance predictability and clarity for pathways for international STEM scholars, students, researchers, and experts.”
The State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) announced an Early Career STEM Research Initiative to facilitate non-immigrant BridgeUSA exchange visitors coming to the U.S. to engage in STEM research. ECA also announced new guidance to facilitate additional academic training for undergraduate and graduate students in STEM fields on the J-1 visa for periods up to 36 months. This extension creates parity with the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program most often used by students on F visas.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) also announced 22 new qualifying fields of study are now included in the STEM OPT program, which permits F-1 visa students with STEM degrees to remain in the U.S. for up to 36 months post-completion to receive training in their fields of study. Many APLU members previously communicated concern with the absence of data sciences on this list, which APLU conveyed to the Biden administration. We are pleased to share this successful outcome.
FY22 Appropriations Update
The chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate appropriations committees met last Thursday to discuss parameters toward a Fiscal Year 2022 appropriations resolution. The federal government is currently operating on a Continuing Resolution that expires on February 18. The meeting, the group’s first since November, did not result in an agreement. Following the meeting, Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said “I told everybody I would like to continue the discussion,” and Senate Appropriations Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-AL) called the conversation “constructive.” House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) said, “It was a good meeting and we’re going to continue to work.” In addition to reaching agreement on overall spending levels, how to handle policy riders also must be resolved. APLU continues to urge lawmakers to finalize FY 2022 appropriations to realize increases in our priority accounts.
Federal Court Decisions on Vaccine Mandates
In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court blocked the Biden administration’s Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) mandate requiring workers at businesses with 100 or more employees get vaccinated or submit a negative Covid test weekly to enter the workplace. However, the court decision upheld the vaccine mandate for medical facilities that accept Medicare or Medicaid payments. Following the ruling, the Biden Administration formally withdrew the OSHA requirements. Litigation challenging the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for federal contractors is moving on a separate track. Most recently, a federal court in Texas issued a ruling blocking the vaccine mandates associated with federal employees and contractors.
Free COVID Tests and Students
Last week, the White House rolled out https://www.covidtests.gov/, which allows households to order 4 free at-home COVID-19 tests. Students living on campus are eligible to request that tests be delivered to their dorm rooms. That said, USPS is seeing a very limited cases of addresses that are not registered as multi-unit buildings, including some dorms, which could lead to COVID test kit ordering difficulties.
While the White House has not developed specific guidance for college students, they have shared with APLU that USPS is working on a fix. In the meantime, USPS recommends filing a service request or contacting their help desk at 1-800-ASK-USPS (1-800-275-8777) to help address the issue.