Report from UM federal relations team

On Capitol Hill

Congress passes tax extender, votes on Omnibus spending bill  
This week, the House and Senate came to agreement on a massive spending bill that would keep the federal government funded until October 1, 2016. H.R.2029 is the $1.15 trillion fiscal year (FY) 2016 omnibus spending bill that also includes bipartisan House-backed language on restricting the visa waiver program (HR 158) and text of fiscal 2016 intelligence authorization legislation (HR 4127), as well as a cybersecurity measure (S 754).

As a result of an earlier budget deal that allowed for spending above sequestration levels, the federal research and education agencies did very well.  Most saw increases, if not level funding, over FY 2015.  And in this fiscally conservative spending environment, many of those agencies had not seen increases in several years.

The big winner in the higher education world is the National Institutes of Health (NIH) which received a $2 billion, or 6.6 percent increase, over FY 2015.   This is the largest investment in both dollar and percentage terms since 2003, and much of it was due to bipartisan support and the championship of Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) who has been supportive of funding increases for the agency.

As part of the Omnibus negotiations, Congressional leadership also agreed to move a package of tax provisions that would make permanent several provisions of interest, including making permanent and enhancing the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) for higher education expenses; extension of tax-free distributions from individual retirement plans for charitable purposes; makes permanent the research and development (R&D) tax credit; extends the above-the-line deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses; and improves section 529 higher education savings accounts.  Full details on the tax provisions package can be found here and a summary can be found here.

Below are details of agencies and programs of interest in the Omnibus.  In addition, a chart of these programs and their funding can be found here.

AGRICULTURE, RURAL DEVELOPMENT, FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION, AND RELATED AGENCIES
U.S. Department of Agriculture

  • The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is funded at $819.7 million, a $32.8 million or 4.16 percent increase above FY 2015 funding.
  • Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) is funded at $350 million, a $25 million or 7.7 percent increase above FY 2015.
  • Smith-Lever 3(b)-(c) is funded at $300 million, level with FY 2015 funding and the Hatch-Act receives $243.7 million, also level with FY 2015.
  • The full conference report can be found here.

COMMERCE, JUSTICE, SCIENCE, AND RELATED AGENCIES
National Institute of Standards and Technology

  • The Omnibus includes $964 million for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).  This is an increase of $100 million, or an 11.5 percent increase over FY 2015.
  • The Omnibus includes $25 million for the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI), to include funding for NNMI center establishment and up to $5 million for coordination activities.  Report language directs NIST to follow the direction of the Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation (RAMI) Act and hold an open competition to select the technological focus for the NIST NNMI competition.  The Omnibus also merges the Advanced Manufacturing Technology Consortia (AMTech) into NNMI.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

  • The final Omnibus includes $19.285 billion for NASA, an increase of $1.27 billion over FY 2015.  However much of this increase is directed to the Space Operations account.   The NASA Science programs would be funded at $5.589 billion, an increase of $344 million over FY 2015.
  • Space Technology is funded at $686.5 million, an increase of $90.5million or 15.2 percent over FY2015.
  • The final Omnibus rejects the proposed cuts to NASA Space Grant and funds the program at $40 million, level with FY 2015 funding.

National Science Foundation (NSF)

  • The Omnibus provides $7.46 billion for NSF, a $119 million or 1.6 percent increase over FY 2015 funding.
  • Conference report language encourages NSF to continue efforts to increase transparency and accountability in its grant awards process.  This includes new requirements that “public award abstracts articulate how the project serves the national interest.”
  • The Omnibus includes $5.966 billion for Research and Related Activities and does not include the proposed cuts to the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (SBE) directorate.  The conference report includes language that “Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences shall be funded up to the fiscal year 2015 level.”
  • The full text of the conference report can be found here.

DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE

  • The Omnibus provides $70 billion for Research, Development, Test and Evaluation (RDT&E), an increase of $6 billion or 9.4 percent over FY 2015 funding.
  • Department of Defense (DOD) Science and Technology (6.1, 6.2, 6.3) would be funded at $13.25 billion, a $790 million or 6.4 percent increase over FY 2015.  This is higher than the amounts proposed in both the House and Senate spending bills.
  • The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is funded at $2.89 billion, a $25.2 million or 0.9 percent decrease over FY 2015.
  • The full text of the conference report can be found here.

ENERGY AND WATER DEVELOPMENT AND RELATED AGENCIES

  • The legislation provides $5.35 billion for the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science in FY 2016, an increase of $280 million or 5.5 percent over FY 2015.
  • The Omnibus provides $70 million for five clean energy manufacturing innovation institutes and $20 million for a “Manufacturing Demonstration Facility” in the area of clean energy.
  • The Omnibus provides $291 million for the Advanced Research Projects Agency- Energy (ARPA-E) program.  This is a $11 million increase or 3.9 percent increase over FY 2015.
  • The full text of the conference report can be found here.

DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY

  • Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology (S&T) is funded at $787 million, a decrease of $313 million or 28.4 percent from FY 2015.  Most of that decrease comes from cuts made to internal Laboratory Facility funds. Research, Development, and Innovation is also cut.  Those programs are funded at $434.8 million, $22.6 million below FY 2015 funding.
  • The full text of the conference report can be found here.

DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, ENVIRONMENT, AND RELATED AGENCIES

  • The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) is funded at $147 million, a $1 million increase or 0.68 percent increase over FY 2015.
  • Language included in the conference report commends NEH for its grant programs focused on Wounded Warriors and returning Veterans, as well as the work of the state humanities councils.
  • The full text of the conference report can be found here.

DEPARTMENTS OF LABOR, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, AND EDUCATION, AND RELATED AGENCIES
Health and Human Services (HHS)

  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is funded at $32.084 billion, a $2 billion or 6.6 percent increase over FY 2015.  Within NIH, report language is included that prioritizes Alzheimer’s Disease research; Cancer research; the Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI); the BRAIN Initiative; and efforts to combat antibiotic resistance.
  • The Omnibus also retains the NIH salary cap for grants at Executive Level II (the House had proposed decreasing the cap to Executive Level III).
  • Language is included in the report that requires the Institutional Development Award (IDeA) program to report to provide a legislative plan to update eligibility criteria and incorporate EPSCoR qualifying states into the IDeA eligibility criteria.
  • The final conference agreement does not include any funding for infrastructure in support of NIH research.  The Senate Labor/ HHS/ Education appropriations bill had included $50 million for infrastructure at institutions of higher education in support of NIH research.
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) would be funded at $3.77 billion, an increase of $160.2 million over FY 2015.  Funding was also included at $9.046 million for the Addiction Technology Transfer Centers (ATTC), which the President Budget request had proposed to cut.  The UMKC College of Nursing and Health Studies actively advocated for restoration of those funds.
  • The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) would receive $334 million in FY 2016, a decrease of $29.7 million from FY 2015.
  • The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) is funded at $6.38 billion, an increase of $36.7 million over FY 2015.  Within that total Nursing Programs would be funded at $229.4 million, a decrease of $2.15 million from FY 2015, due to the restructuring of the Geriatric Education programs.

U.S. Department of Education

  • The Omnibus includes $900 million for TRIO, an increase of $60.1 million for the program over FY 2015.  Report language directs the increased funding to hold a new competition for Talent Search and Educational Opportunity Centers, as well as to increase funding to existing TRIO programs.  The report language also encourages the Department of Education to hold the new competition as soon as possible, in order to award the grants by July 31, 2016.  GEAR UP would receive $322.7 million, an increase of $21.1 million from FY 2015.
  • The Omnibus also includes $120 million for the Investing in Innovation (I3), same level of funding as FY 2015.
  • Promise Neighborhoods program is funded at $73 million, $16.6 million more than FY 2015 enacted level.
  • For Federal Student Aid programs, the Pell Grant is funded at $22.5 billion and the maximum grant would be increased to $5,915, an increase of $140 for the 2016-2017 academic year.  In addition, Federal Work Study is funded at $989 million (same as FY 2015) and Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants (SEOG) at $733 million (same as FY 2015).
  • Graduate Assistant in Areas of National Need (GAANN) is funded at $29 million, same as FY 2015 levels.  The House had proposed a substantial cut of this program.
  • Title VI international programs is funded at $72.1 million, same as FY 2015.
  • The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) is funded at $618 million, a $44 million or 7.6 percent increase.  Within that total, the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) is funded at $54 million, the same as FY 2015.  The House Labor/ HHS/ Education bill had proposed substantial cuts to IES.  The University of Missouri – Columbia College of Education, working with other AAU institutions, successfully advocated for the restoration of this funding.
  • The full conference report can be found here.

DEPARTMENT OF STATE, FOREIGN OPERATIONS, AND RELATED PROGRAMS
U.S. Agency for International Development

  • The Omnibus bill includes $1.5 billion for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), an increase of $110 million compared to the FY 2015 level and $174 million below the President’s request.  The Omnibus funds the Feed the Future at $50 million and State is directed to support the Feed the Future Innovation Labs in fiscal year (FY) 2017 budget request.  The Omnibus also includes funding for new partnerships within USAID Higher Education programs.  Language is included that funds will be between U.S higher education institutions and developing countries for “institutional capacity building and awarded on an open and competitive basis”.
  • The full conference report can be found here.

House, Senate pass legislation to extend the Perkins loan program  

This week, Congress considered and passed the Federal Perkins Loan Program Extension Act of 2015. This legislation provides a 2-year extension for the Perkins loan program and allows current and new undergraduate borrowers to receive new Perkins loans. Current borrowers much exhaust all subsidized Federal Direct Stafford Loan prior to receiving Perkins loans, and new borrowers must exhaust all Direct Loan eligibility prior to receive Perkins loans. Congress is expected to consider the reauthorization of the program in the Higher Education Act reauthorization next year.  The President is expected to sign the legislation into law.

Senate confirms Assistant Secretary of Defense, DoE Office of Science leadership  

This week, the Senate voted by unanimous consent to confirm the nomination of Stephen Welby to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering for the Department of Defense. Prior to being confirmed for his current position, Mr. Welby was the Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Systems Engineering, as well a performing the duties of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering. Mr. Welby has more than 27 years of experience in defense work including positions at the Defense Advanced Research Projects (DARPA).  His biography can be found here.

The Senate also confirmed this month Cherry Murray as the new head of the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. Ms. Murray comes from Harvard University where from 2009-2014 she was Dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences before serving as the Benjamin Peirce Professor of Technology and Public Policy and Professor of Physics at Harvard. Among her many career accomplishments, Ms. Murray was awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation by the White House in 2014 for her work in the advancement of devices for telecommunications, leadership in the STEM field in the U.S., and use of light to study matter.  The press release regarding her confirmation can be found here.

Around the Federal Agencies

ARPA-E to host 2016 conference on energy innovation 
February 29 through March 2, 2016 the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) will host its annual energy innovation summit in National Harbor, Maryland. This conference brings together business, academia, and government to advance transformational energy technologies. Keynote speakers will include U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, and the President of the World Bank Group Dr. Jim Yong Kim. Learn more about the conference here.

National Institutes of Health releases RFI on precision medicine 
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) released a request for information (RFI) in November 17 to solicit information for the Precision Medicine Initiative Cohort Program. The purpose of this RFI is to solicit input on conducting physical evaluations on biospecimens from Direct Volunteers for the Precision Medicine Initiative Cohort Program.  The NIH is seeking information regarding strategies that would allow for baseline physical evaluation and biospeciman acquisition from a cohort of 300,000 or more Direct Volunteers. The request for information can be viewed here.

National Institutes of Health releases strategic plan  
On December 16, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) unveiled the NIH-Wide Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2016-2010. Titled “Turning Discovery Into Health”, the plan focuses on ensuring that the agency is well positioned to capitalized on new opportunities for scientific exploration and address new challenges for human health. The strategic plan was developed after hearing from hundreds of stakeholders, and includes four main objectives:

  1. “Advance opportunities in biomedical research in fundamental science, treatment and cures, and health promotion and disease prevention;
  2. Foster innovation by setting NIH priorities to enhance nimbleness, consider burden of disease and value of permanently eradicating a disease, and advance research opportunities presented by rare diseases.
  3. Enhance scientific stewardship by recruiting and retaining an outstanding biomedical research workforce, enhancing workforce diversity and impact through partnerships, ensuring rigor and reproducibility, optimizing approaches to inform funding decisions, encouraging innovation, and engaging in proactive risk management practices; and
  4. Excel as a federal science agency by managing for results by developing the “science of science,” balancing outputs with outcomes, conducting workforce analyses, continually reviewing peer review, evaluating steps to enhance rigor and reproducibility, reducing administrative burden, and tracking effectiveness of risk management in decision making.”[1]

Read the complete NIH-wide Strategic Plan here.