A Periodic Federal Science Update

Congress Extends Stop Gap Funding for the Federal Government Until December 22 — After much posturing on all sides, late last week, prior to its expiration on December 8, Congress passed an extension to the existing Continuring Resolution (CR).  The new CR, which will allow Federal agencies and programs to continue to operate at levels close to the FY 2017 levels, will provide funding until December 22.  During this time Congress is expected to continue negotiations to revise current statutory spending caps for defense and non-defense discretionary programs, complete the ongoing tax reform bill conference, continue work on supplementary disaster relief assistance, DACA legislation, and extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program.  

Senate Commerce Committee Expected to Consider Nomination for Next NOAA Administrator —On December 13, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will take up the nomination of Mr. Barry Lee Myers to be the next NOAA Administrator.  The Committee held his confirmation hearing on November 29.  More information on the hearing and Mr. Myers’ nomination can be found here. Should Mr. Myers’ nomination be approved by the Committee, the next step would be for the full Senate to vote on his nomination. In addtion to Mr. Myers’ nomination, the Committee will take up legislation to reauthorized the NOAA integrate drought information system program, and the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program Reauthorization Act of 2017.

National Ocean Policy Hearing to be Held — On December 12, the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard, will convene a hearing titled “National Ocean Policy: Stakeholder Perspectives,” at 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday, December 12, 2017. The hearing will examine the state of the National Ocean Policy and the program’s interaction with existing laws and regulations for ocean management. Witnesses will include:  Ms. Bonnie Brady, Executive Director, Long Island Commercial Fishing Association; Mr. Christopher Guith, Senior Vice President, Global Energy Institute, U.S. Chamber of Commerce;  Mr. Dan Keppen, Executive Director, Family Farm Alliance; and Ms. Kathy Metcalf, President and CEO, Chamber of Shipping of America.  The hearing will take place in Russell Senate Office Building, Room 253. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing will be available on www.commerce.senate.gov.

Tax Reform Legislation Could Have Adverse Impacts on Students and Institutions of Higher Education — House and Senate Are Now in Conference Attempting to Resolve Their Differing Versions — There are number of issues in these bills that are problematic for institutions of higher education and/or students.  For example, the House bill proposes to eliminate a section from the existing tax code which allows colleges and universities to provide their employees and their spouses or dependents with tuition reductions for undergraduate education that are excluded from taxable income. This same section of the current code also allows colleges and universities to lower the cost of graduate education for their students who are serving as teaching or research assistants as part of their academic training without the tuition reductions being treated as taxable income.  The House bill also proposes to eliminate the allowance for employers to provide tuition reimbursement to employees, tax free which encourages the private sector’s investment in the advancement of its employees and encouraging partnerships with colleges and universities. 

The Senate bill is not as problematic to the higher education community as the House bill as it retains the student benefits the House version would eliminate including the House’s provision to tax tuition waivers for graduate students. The Senate bill creates a new excise tax on endowments at certain private institutions. The Senate bill does contain a number of other provisions that would negatively impact students and institutions by reducing charitable giving, increasing costs and the regulatory burden on many colleges and universities, reducing the ability to access tax-exempt bonds for capital projects, and threatening state investment in higher education.  An excellent “side by side” of the House and Senate bills’ provisions impact students and institutions of higher education can be found here.

NSF Releases Latest Science and Engineering State Profiles — State Profiles is an interactive website providing access to state-level data on science and engineering (S&E) personnel and finances and state rankings. State Profiles displays up to 7 state profiles of the user’s choice. Data are available from surveys sponsored by the National Science Foundation on employed science, engineering, or health (SEH) doctorate holders; S&E doctorates awarded, including by major S&E fields; SEH graduate students and postdoctorates; federal research and development obligations by agency and performer; total and business R&D expenditures; and higher education R&D performance, including by major S&E fields. Data available from other sources include population, civilian labor force, per capita personal income, federal expenditures, patents, small business innovation research awards, and gross domestic product. All data are available for download. Data cover 2003 to present.  View the data here.