August 8, 2014: Government Relations Update

FY15 Budget Update

Congress has made a bit of progress on the Fiscal Year 2015 appropriations bills that fund all of the federal agencies.  However, another Omnibus Bill or year-long Continuing Resolution is expected to be passed this fall.  To date, the House Appropriations Committee has marked up 11 of the 12 annual appropriations bills, 7 of which have passed the full House of Representatives.  In contrast, the Senate has reported 8 draft bills from the Senate Appropriations Committee, but none have passed the full Senate.

Since our last update, the full House passed the DoD and Energy and Water bills, and reported a draft of the Homeland Security and Agriculture bills.  The Senate also marked up several bills, including the Senate Labor-Health-Education Appropriations draft bill (for the third year in a row, the House has not drafted its version of the Labor-HHS bill).  Below are highlights of several bills:

  • Labor-HHS-Education: the Senate bill would provide $30.5 billion for the NIH, a 2 percent increase over last year, which would be enough to replace the FY13 sequester cut.  Most institutes and centers would receive an approximate 1.5 percent increase.  The bill would also provide $100 million for the BRAIN Initiative.  With respect to Education, the Senate would level fund most of the federal student aid programs, but increase the maximum Pell Grant by $100 to $5,830 for 2015-2016.  Work Study would see a $35 million increase, and SEOG a $15 million increase.  The bill rejects the President's request for $52 million in funding to develop and implement the proposed higher education ratings system.
  • Defense:  The House bill would boost overall DoD funding by $4 billion, including $11.94 billion for DoD S&T programs.  Most S&T funding is directed to applied research and advanced technology development, with basic research getting only a small boost above the President's request.  The bill would cut DARPA and sustain funding for the Defense Health Program, particularly for research on TBI, spinal cord, and orthopedics.  In contrast, the Senate would provide $2.27 billion for basic research, a 5 percent increase over FY14 and a 12 percent increase over the President's request.  DARPA basic research would also see an 8.5 percent boost.  
  • Energy & Water:  The House bill would level fund the DOE Office of Science at $5.07 billion, which is about 1% below the President's request.  It would also cut the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) program by 6 percent from FY14 and $500 million below the President's request.  The White House has threatened to veto the bill.
  • Homeland Security:  The House bill provides $979 million for S&T research activities, which is $38 million above the President's request but $111 million below FY14.  The university programs account, which funds the ALERT Center, would get $41 million, $10 million above the request, which would allow for competition of a new center.  Similarly, the Senate would provide the COE program with an $8.5 million increase.  Both bills also contain report language that directs DHS to establish operational cybersecurity research initiatives that include academic institutions and invest in information assurance programs that train the next generation of cyber experts.

Finally, we are pleased to report that included in the DoD and CJS bill is report language and funding we requested that will advantage Northeastern's research expertise in strategic materials, cybersecurity, and marine science.

Higher Education Legislation

Several higher education bills were introduced in Congress in recent weeks.  On July 24, the House passed "The Student and Family Tax Simplification Act" along party lines, which would consolidate the American Opportunity Tax Credit, Hope Scholarship Credit, Lifetime Learning Credit and the current tuition deduction into one federal education credit.  The House also passed three separate bills related to reauthorization of the Higher Education Act to simplify FAFSA and loan repayment programs and encourage competency-based education programs.  Separately, Senate HELP Chairman Tom Harkin introduced a draft rewrite of the Higher Education Act.  Among other provisions, Harkin's bill would restore year-round Pell and make several regulatory changes aimed at promoting transparency.  We have been working with his staff, as well as the House, on several financial aid and innovation provisions related to co-op.  

Also, last week Senator Claire McCaskill introduced legislation related to sexual assault on college campuses.  It would require publication of anonymous campus surveys and levy fines on colleges for Title IX violations. 

State Issues

Just past 1 a.m. last Friday, the State Legislature wrapped up its formal legislative sessions for the year.  While informal sessions will continue until January, controversial bills or those requiring roll calls will have to wait until next year.  Below are highlights of issues we helped lead the charge in supporting on behalf of the university community:

  • "Proof of Concept" Funding: the final economic development bill approved by both branches and sent to the Governor included $2 million to establish a new fund, which we advocated for, to provide grants to transition new technologies coming out of universities.  Half of the initial investment will be awarded to researchers at private institutions in awards up to $50K.
  • "Good Samaritan" Law:  Legislation shielding engineers and other professionals from civil liability when they respond to natural disasters or other emergencies was enacted by both branches and sent to the Governor for his signature. (This issue was brought to our attention by one of our Engineering faculty, who we worked with to help pass this bill)

Other state legislation of note:

  • Private Construction Retainage Fees (H.4368): Legislation that would prohibit retainage fees in private construction contracts of greater than 5% was approved by the House and Senate during the final formal session and sent to the Governor.
  • Pharmacy Audits (S.2286):  Legislation to establish minimum and uniform standards for pharmacy records audits was redrafted and engrossed by the Senate on Friday.  It could still pass during an informal session.  
  • Pharmacy Interns (S.995): A bill to allow pharmacy student interns to administer immunizations under the supervision of a licensed pharmacist was redrafted in mid-May and remains pending in the Senate.
  • Social Media Privacy (S.2270): Legislation to bar employers and educational institutions from compelling students or employees to provide access to social media accounts passed the Senate last week, but remains pending in the House.  

Moving forward, we expect to work with a number of partners on state college affordability legislation next year.  We also look forward to hearing from you about issues of importance to your work.