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News & Media

Washington Update

October 2, 2019

FY2020 Appropriations Update
Last week, the Senate passed a stopgap spending bill that will fund the government until November 21, giving Congress an extra two months to complete Fiscal Year 2020 appropriations. President Trump signed the bill into law on September 27.

The Senate Appropriations Committee passed four additional spending bills before leaving D.C. for a two-week recess. The Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved their FY2020 Commerce, Justice, and Science spending bill last Thursday. The bill recommends $8.3 billion for the National Science Foundation (NSF), which is $242 million above FY2019 enacted levels and $319 million below the House bill. The bill would fund the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Science Mission Directorate at $6.9 billion, level with FY2019 enacted and $256 million below the House bill.

The Senate Appropriations Committee also passed their Interior and Environment spending bill. In the Senate version, the Environmental Protection Agency Office of Science would receive $713 million, which is $7 million above FY2019 enacted and $15 million below the House recommendation. The bill would provide $157 million, a $2 million increase, for the National Endowment for the Humanities, which is $10.5 million below the House recommendation of $167.5 million. The president’s budget request proposed $38 million as well as the closure of the agency.

Lastly, of interest to APLU members, the State & Foreign Operations appropriations bill also unanimously advanced out of committee last week. The bill recommends $35 million for U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) partnerships between universities in the U.S. and developing nations. The funding is consistent with FY2019 enacted levels. The Feed the Future Innovation Labs would also be flat-funded at $55 million, level with the House bill.

The House and Senate must still reconcile their spending differences before each appropriations bill can pass through both chambers. The APLU CGA FY2020 Appropriations Priorities Chart has been updated to reflect additional Senate action.

Chairman Alexander Introduces Package of HEA Bills
Last Thursday, Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN), again blocked consideration of the House-passed two-year extension of the FUTURE Act, which provides mandatory funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). As of this week, mandatory funding authority has expired.

Chairman Alexander is calling on his colleagues to consider a broader package of higher education bills, the Student Aid Improvement Act, which he introduced for consideration. His proposal combines several bills with bipartisan support, including bills to simplify FAFSA, standardize financial aid award letters, expand Pell grants to short-term programs, remove the ban on Pell grants for incarcerated individuals, provide a small increase to maximum Pell grants, and extend mandatory funding for HBCUs and MSIs for ten years. The bill would be paid for by eliminating a feature of several income-driven repayment plans, which caps a borrower’s monthly payment at the amount they would have paid under the 10-year standard repayment plan.

Chairman Alexander initially planned to include the College Transparency Act, (CTA) – S. 800, APLU-championed legislation – in the package of bills, but it was ultimately left out. In a speech on the Senate floor, however, Alexander said he would work with the committee to include CTA, as well as S. 1803, the Educational Opportunity and Success Act, which would reauthorize the TRIO program. The Chairman officially signed on as a cosponsor of CTA last Friday. APLU released a statement applauding his co-sponsorship and noting the incredible momentum behind the bill. Ranking Member of the Senate HELP Committee, Patty Murray (D-WA), remains opposed to a piecemeal approach to HEA reauthorization.

On the House side, the Chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, Bobby Scott (D-VA), is preparing a comprehensive reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, which he could introduce this month. Chairman Scott hopes to markup the bill in committee this year and ultimately move the bill to the House Floor.

APLU and AAU File Amicus Brief Defending State Sovereign Immunity Relative to Copyrights
On September 27, APLU and the Association of American Universities (AAU) submitted an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in Allen v. Cooper. APLU received requests from member institutions to submit such a brief so the Court would understand the implications of the case for public universities. The litigation, which involves the State of North Carolina, will decide the extent to which Congress validly abrogated state sovereign immunity through the Copyright Remedy Clarification Act. The Supreme Court will hear arguments on November 5th.

In the brief, APLU and AAU argue that subjecting public universities to liability for copyright infringement is unnecessary as there is scant evidence public institutions intentionally violate copyrights, that there are remedies available other than financial damages, and ultimately costs of litigation would detract from the education, research, and engagement missions of public institutions.

DOL Releases Final Overtime Rule
The Department of Labor (DOL) released the final rule updating the “white collar exemption” to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Among the changes, DOL will raise the “standard salary level” from $455 per week or $23,660 to $684 per week or $35,568 per year for a full-year worker; increase the total annual compensation requirement for “highly compensated employees” from the currently enforced level of $100,000 per year to $107,432 per year (this is below the $147,414 initially proposed when DOL released the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in March); and allow employers to use nondiscretionary bonuses and incentive payments (including commissions) paid at least annually to satisfy up to 10 percent of the standard salary level, in recognition of evolving pay practices. The final rule does not make changes to the duties requirements.

In May, APLU joined the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR) and others in submitting comments to DOL outlining the impact the changes to FLSA would have on colleges and universities and offered recommendations for improving the rule.

OSTP Releases Letter on Research Security
White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Director Kelvin Droegemeier released a letter to the research community outlining the National Science and Technology Council Joint Committee on the Research Environment (JCORE)’s efforts to combat foreign influence in science. The letter notes that JCORE plans to work along the following lines: coordinating outreach and engagement with federal agencies, academic research institutions, companies, non-governmental organizations, researchers, and students; establishing and coordinating disclosure requirements for participation in the federally-funded research enterprise; developing best practices for academic research institutions in collaboration with academia, professional societies, and other organizations; and developing methods for identification, assessment, and management of risk in the research enterprise.

OSTP also announced plans to meet with institutions to converse with researchers and students on research security. Director Droegemeier has requested APLU members share his letter broadly across their campuses.

DHS Delays Rule on H-4 Work Permits
On September 16, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) stated in a letter to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that it does not expect to publish a proposed rule to rescind H-4 work authorization visas for spouses of H-1B visa holders until spring 2020. DHS announced the proposed changes in 2017 and the regulation was delivered to the White House Office of Management and Budget for final review this past February. The Department is currently involved in a lawsuit to block the proposed changes.

Higher Ed Coalitions Express Concerns for NIH Fetal Tissue Research Guidelines
APLU joined over 80 organizations, associations, and coalitions on a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar expressing concerns regarding two National Institutes of Health notices, “Changes to NIH Requirements Regarding Proposed Human Fetal Tissue Research” and “Clarifying Competing Application Instructions and Notice of Publication of Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Proposed Human Fetal Tissue Research.”

The letter argues that the new policies will create barriers to biomedical research and “jeopardize the integrity of the peer-review process, and create an unnecessarily cumbersome and bureaucratic process for reviewing crucial research.”

Senate confirms Eugene Scalia for Labor Secretary
The Senate confirmed Eugene Scalia to serve as the next Secretary of Labor last Thursday by a vote of 53-44. Secretary Scalia was previously a partner in the Washington, D.C. law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. In 2002, Mr. Scalia served as Solicitor of Labor for the George W. Bush administration. His resume also includes serving as Special Assistant to Attorney General William Barr.

Scalia holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia and a law degree from the University of Chicago.

NSB Releases Report on Science and Engineering Labor Workforce
The National Science Board (NSB) released a new report, as part of Science and Engineering Indicators 2020, on the U.S. science and engineering (S&E) labor workforce. This analytical report includes a wealth of data on the size, growth, and career pathways of the S&E workforce. The report builds on two earlier NSB reports released earlier this month, the Elementary and Secondary Mathematics and Science Education report, which covers national trends in K-12 student achievement and compares U.S. student performance with that of other nations, and the Higher Education in Science and Engineering report on trends in S&E higher education in the U.S. in comparison to other countries. With the 2020 edition, the NSB is changing Indicators from a single report released every two years to a set of disaggregated and streamlined reports published on a rolling basis.

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