Policy Update: November 15, 2011

There has been some recent developments in Washington, DC around deficit reduction and FY12 appropriations. Below is a brief update on the budget and some pending reporting requirements legislation.

"SUPER COMMITTEE"

Everyone in DC is focused on the Super Committee, which is scheduled to report a deficit reduction plan on November 23rd. While there has been no success yet coming to an agreement, there was some movement this week after Republicans released a plan that would cut spending by $750 billion, generate $500 billion in revenue and achieve close to $200 billion in interest savings. The initial reaction from Democrats was to reject the proposal because it lowers the tax rate for wealthy Americans from 35% to 28%. However, on Wednesday Senator Dick Durban (D-IL) praised Republicans for putting taxes on the table, inciting hope for a possible compromise. A deal may be a preferable for Northeastern, because it would provide clarity on the budget, which helps the global economy, and it would avoid the more significant cuts that would come from "sequestration" in 2013. Even if we do move to the sequestration, there will be an effort to reduce the proposed budget cuts.

FY12 APPROPRIATIONS

FY 12 Appropriations bills, which fund research agencies, are finally starting to move. This week, Congress is expected to approve its first "minibus," which includes three of the twelve FY12 appropriations bills: Agriculture, Transportation-Housing, and Commerce-Justice-Science. While some overall reductions have been made, funding for many scientific research and innovation accounts have been spared, if not slightly increased.

The Commerce-Justice-Science bill includes funding for NIST, NOAA, the NSF and NASA.

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

  • NIST will receive $751 million, a $33 million increase over FY11. This includes $567 million for the NIST Scientific and Technical Research and Services Account, an 11.6% increase over FY11

National Science Foundation (NSF)

  • NSF will see a $173 million increase to $7 billion for FY12. This includes a $155 million increase for NSF Research & Related Activities, including research conducted by the NSF Social, Behavioral &Economic Sciences (SBE) Directorate

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

  • NASA budget would be cut by $648 million, or 3.7 percent. However, NASA Science Programs would receive $5.1 billion, $155 million more than FY11. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) would receive $4.5 million, a 33% cut from FY11.
Included in this minibus was also the Agriculture bill, which funds the FDA.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

  • FDA will receive a $50 million increase in discretionary funding, to $2.5 billion for FY12.

The "minibus" also includes a Continuing Resolution to keep the government open through December 16th. A second "minibus" may combine the FY12 Energy-Water, Financial Services, and State-Foreign Operations appropriations bills, which could be considered by the Senate this week. It is not clear when the critical Labor, HHS and Education Appropriations bill, which funds financial aid and the NIH, will come up for a vote.

REGULATORY AND REPORTING ISSUES

The higher education community is increasingly concerned about legislation that would impose a significant regulatory burden on colleges and universities. Specifically, there are two bills that are particularly concerning: the DATA Act and the GRANT Act (which has not been introduced in Congress yet). Both bills are aimed at increasing transparency in the grant making process. While not directly focused on higher education, given that colleges and universities have the highest proportion of grants awarded, we would have the greatest regulatory burden if these bills pass. They will likely move next year.

CONCLUSION

While folks in DC seem pleased that some legislation is starting to move, the mood is still pessimistic. Right now, members of the Massachusetts delegation are focused on their new districts and how to connect with additional constituents. The Office of Government Relations will continue to monitor these issues and advocate for funding for research, financial aid and other essential programs for the university.