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House and Senate Release Bipartisan Evidence-Based Policymaking Bill

On November 1, members of the House and Senate introduced the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act, the “down-payment” legislation that would enact some of the less complicated (and less controversial) recommendations of the report from the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking (see COSSA’s coverage and statement). The bill was introduced in the House by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) as H.R. 4174 and cosponsored by Representatives Blake Farenthold (R-TX), Trey Gowdy (R-SC), and Derek Kilmer (D-WA), and in the Senate by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) as S. 2046 and cosponsored by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI). The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform unanimously approved the House version of the bill on November 2, and the bill is scheduled for consideration by the full chamber on Wednesday, November 15. While the Senate Committee with jurisdiction over the bill (Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs) has not yet scheduled a markup of the Senate’s bill, Speaker Ryan is reportedly keen to see the legislation enacted by the end of the year, so the bill in the Senate could be attached to “must-pass” legislation, like an appropriations bill. COSSA has joined more than 100 organizations and leaders in a letter in support of the bill. Speaker Ryan and Sen. Murray had also pledged to introduce additional legislation to implement some of the more complex recommendations of the Commission, perhaps next year, although that likely depends on the success of the bill introduced this month.

The bill makes progress towards implementing 13 of the Commission’s recommendations, across the three major themes of the Commission’s report: strengthening privacy protections, improving access to data, and enhancing the government’s evidence-building capacity. Highlights include codifying Statistical Policy Directive #1 (which defines the responsibilities of principal statistical agencies as producers of relevant, timely and objective data while protecting the trust and confidentiality of data providers), mandating that agencies create evidence-building plans, establishing the roles of Chief Evaluation Officers and Chief Data Officers, strengthening the coordinating role of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and establishing a uniform process for outside researchers to apply for access to restricted federal data. The bill would also begin the process of examining the feasibility of the National Secure Data Service proposed by the Commission by establishing an Advisory Committee on Data for Evidence Building. The bill also incorporates a version of the OPEN Government Data Act (H.R. 1770/S. 760), introduced by Rep. Kilmer and Sen. Schatz, which would require that federal agencies make their data public and accessible by default (unless there were compelling reasons not to) and create inventories of federal data.

The Bipartisan Policy Center, which is housing the ongoing activities of the Commission, has published a thorough summary of the bill and cross-referenced the Commission’s recommendations with the provisions in the legislation.

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Posted in Issue 22 (November 14), Update, Volume 36 (2017)

Rep. Lamar Smith, Sen. Jeff Flake Announce Retirement

Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ), a prominent fiscal hawk and critic of President Trump, announced on October 24 that he would not be seeking reelection. In a passionate speech on the Senate floor, Flake criticized the disregard for truth and decency in political discourse. Flake has fought the expansion of the federal government during his tenure, which included issuing “waste books” that critiqued federal spending, including research grants. Flake joined the Senate in 2013 and will serve until January 2019.

Less ceremoniously, on November 2, Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), Chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, announced his retirement. Smith has served in Congress since 1987 with stints as the Chair of the House Ethics Committee and Judiciary Committee. During his tenure as Chair of the Science Committee, Smith exercised oversight over the National Science Foundation (NSF), and science more broadly, including introducing a reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act, which contained targeted cuts and negative policies of consequence for the social science research community. COSSA worked hard in the intervening years to halt Smith’s efforts targeting social science funding. House Republican rules allow members to serve as chairs of committees for only six years, which would have required Smith to relinquish his Science Committee gavel at the end of the term, even if he did not choose to retire. Smith will serve until January 2019.

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Posted in Issue 22 (November 14), Update, Volume 36 (2017)

GOP Tax Plan Could Hurt Students, NDD Programs

Several provisions contained in the tax plans rolled out by Republican leadership this month have raised concerns for stakeholder groups that do not normally weigh in on tax policy. The House’s plan, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (H.R. 1) was approved by the Ways and Means Committee on November 9 and is expected to be debated on the House floor later this week. The Senate Finance Committee began its markup of  the Senate plan on Monday and will continue its consideration of the bill today. There are significant differences between the two plans that would need to be worked out during the conference process, and the Senate plan will likely require additional changes in order to gain the support of 51 Republicans. However, Congressional Republicans are facing substantial political pressure to pass a tax plan, and GOP leadership has publicly stated that it hopes to have a plan passed by the end of the year.

Higher education groups have flagged a number of provisions in both proposals that could make undergraduate and graduate education harder to afford and affect colleges and universities’ ability to offer assistance to their students.  Of particular concern is a proposal in the House plan to tax graduate tuition waivers as income—meaning that some graduate students’ taxes could increase by 100 percent or more while they earn the same (generally limited) income.  The House bill would also eliminate the student loan interest deduction as well as several other tax credits for students. While these changes are absent from the Senate bill, the two proposals share other provisions that could affect colleges and universities’ bottom lines, including reducing incentives for charitable giving, an excise tax on endowment earnings at private college and universities, and repealing or reducing the state and local tax deduction, potentially affecting state funding of higher education.

In addition to the impacts on students and higher education institutions, the budget proposals add an estimated $1.5 trillion over ten years to the federal deficit, likely leading to significant cuts to non-defense discretionary (NDD) programs down the road, which include research funding. Given that these programs have already seen disproportionate cuts to their budgets in recent years, this is a cause for concern among groups focused on science and research, as well as on other social issues.

COSSA has not issued its own action alert on the tax plan, however we have compiled the following list of resources and information on how to take action prepared by partner organizations:

American Association for the Advancement of Science

American Council on Education

Association of American Medical Colleges and Universities

Association of American Universities

Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities

Center for Budget and Policy Priorities

Coalition on Human Needs

Council of Graduate Schools

Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology

National Humanities Alliance

NDD United

Other Resources

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Posted in Issue 22 (November 14), Update, Volume 36 (2017)

Rand Paul Introduces Bill to “Reform” Federal Research Grant System

On October 18, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Chair of the Subcommittee on Federal Spending Oversight of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hosted a hearing entitled “Broken Beakers: Federal Support for Research.” Following the hearing Sen. Paul introduced the BASIC Research Act (S. 1973) to “reform” the federal research grant system. The bill would alter how grant proposals at all federal research funding agencies are reviewed by adding non-expert members of the public to review panels and requiring all applications for federal research grants to be made public. The bill also proposes the elimination of the Inspector General of the National Science Foundation (NSF) to create an Inspector General that would oversee the entire federal research enterprise.

The controversial legislation, which was summarized in Science magazine, has been referred to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee but currently has no cosponsors and an incredibly narrow path to passage. COSSA is watching the legislation and will report if or when action is needed.

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Posted in Issue 21 (October 31), Update, Volume 36 (2017)

Labor, Health and Human Services Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Indirect Costs of Research

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education held a hearing on October 24 on the role of facilities and administrative costs (also known as indirect costs) in supporting NIH-funded research. The hearing included testimony from Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier, Vice President of Research at the University of Oklahoma; Dr. Gary Gilliland, President of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center; Dr. Bruce Liang, Dean of the University of Connecticut School of Medicine; and Dr. Keith Yamamoto, Vice Chancellor for Science Policy and Strategy at the University of California, San Francisco. Dr. Droegemeier’s written testimony included a history of the collaboration between universities and the federal government to support research, trends in facilities and administrative costs over time, and thorough explanation of the importance of federal support for these costs.

Committee leadership, including Chair Tom Cole (R-OK) and Ranking Member Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), and witnesses agreed that facilities and administrative costs were key to supporting research and should not be arbitrarily restricted. Many committee members agreed with the witnesses that restricting facilities and administrative costs would have a strong negative impact on all research done at universities and that capping the rates at which universities can be reimbursed for these costs should not be used as a budget-cutting measure by Congress or the Administration.

Find more of COSSA’s coverage of facilities and administrative costs here.

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Posted in Issue 21 (October 31), Update, Volume 36 (2017)

Senate Continues Working as To-Do List and Uncertainty Grows

The Senate hopes to pass a budget resolution for fiscal year (FY) 2018 this week while Congress’ to-do list and uncertainty surrounding the FY 2018 spending bills continues to grow. With only 37 working days for the Senate and 28 working days for the House left in the year, Congress hopes to pass a budget resolution, overhaul the tax code, create a plan to fund the government after December 8, and strike a deal to raise the debt ceiling. The House narrowly passed a budget resolution in early October that proposed major cuts to entitlement programs and non-defense discretionary programs, which includes the federal basic science agencies.

Providing more uncertainty for the Senate is the absence of Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) this week as he recovers in Mississippi from a medical issue. Cochran is the chair of the Appropriations Committee and a reliable vote for the Senate’s narrow Republican majority.

Keep up on the latest funding developments on the COSSA website.

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Posted in Issue 19 (October 3), Update, Volume 36 (2017)

House Passes Omnibus Spending Bill Along with Problematic NSF Amendment

After two weeks of debate and votes on hundreds of amendments, the House of Representatives has passed an omnibus spending bill for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018, consisting of all twelve spending bills. The omnibus includes the same funding levels for social science research as the Commerce-Justice-Science and Labor-Health and Human Services-Education bills that were passed by the House Appropriations Committee. While the proposed funding levels were moderately good for social and behavioral science research, the House approved an amendment proposed by Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), the chair of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee, that could be detrimental to the social sciences. The amendment would require that about $30 million (or 0.5 percent) of the Research and Related Activities account at the National Science Foundation (NSF) be used only to support basic research in the biological and physical sciences. NSF currently prioritizes research investments based on the advice of its own experts and scholars and if this amendment became law, it could result in political influence into the NSF research process.

Two other amendments that targeted the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) and the Census Bureau, proposed by Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL) and Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA) respectively, were not taken up for consideration on the floor and therefore did not pass.

The spending package has little chance of passing the Senate, but President Trump has already signed a short-term budget measure to keep the government open at current funding levels through December 8, giving Congress more time to come up with a deal for the rest of FY 2018. Read COSSA’s full coverage of the FY 2018 spending debate here.

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Posted in Issue 18 (September 19), Update, Volume 36 (2017)

Senate Labor-HHS-Education Bill Approved by Committee

On September 7, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved its fiscal year (FY) 2018 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS) Appropriations Bill; the Labor-HHS Subcommittee advanced the bill on September 5. This bill contains annual funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Department of Education (ED), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), and Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), among other federal departments and agencies. The House Appropriations Committee passed its version of the bill on July 19; the bill recently passed the House as part of a 12-bill omnibus (see related article).

The next step for the bill is consideration by the full Senate. However, Congress recently struck a deal with the White House on a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government funded into next fiscal year (which begins October 1) through December 8. This is intended to provide additional time for lawmakers to come to agreement on overall budget levels, including the spending caps that are currently casting a major shadow on the FY 2018 appropriations bills; the bills have been written to exceed the caps currently set in law, signaling that a budget deal could be negotiated in the weeks ahead.

Read on for COSSA’s analysis of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s proposals for the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Bureau of Labor Statistics, and Department of Education.

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Posted in Issue 18 (September 19), Update, Volume 36 (2017)

Pressure’s on as Congress Returns to Packed Agenda

Congress returns this week from its month-long August recess with just 12 working days left until fiscal year (FY) 2017 is a wrap. While September is a typically busy stretch as policymakers try to finish work on the annual appropriations bills and tie up other end-of-the-fiscal-year loose ends, the next few weeks promise to be even more challenging than recent years.

First on deck is an $8 billion emergency relief package in response to Hurricane Harvey. In addition, Congress will need to raise the federal debt ceiling in the next couple of weeks as well as take action to avoid a government shutdown before October 1. Prior to leaving for recess, Congress started making progress on the annual appropriations bills; work will continue over the next few weeks (see COSSA’s coverage here). In fact, the Senate Appropriations Committee will consider the FY 2018 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies bill later this week.

While a likely final outcome is a multi-bill omnibus, such a package will not make it to the President’s desk by the end of the month. Congressional leaders are now talking about a three month continuing resolution (CR) to give lawmakers until the end of the calendar year to complete work on the spending legislation.

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Posted in Issue 17 (September 5), Update, Volume 36 (2017)

Senate CJS Bill Approved by Committee; Congress Leaves for Recess

On July 27, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the fiscal year (FY) 2018 Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS) Appropriations Bill; the bill was marked up in subcommittee on July 25. In addition, the House Appropriations Committee advanced its version of the CJS bill on July 13 (check out COSSA’s coverage of this and other FY 2018 appropriations bills). The CJS bill serves as the vehicle for annual appropriations for the National Science Foundation (NSF), Census Bureau, Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), National Institute of Justice (NIJ), Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), and many other federal departments and agencies. The next step for the bill is consideration by the full Senate. However, now that Congress has left town for the August recess, we will not see floor action until after Labor Day at the earliest.

Read on for COSSA’s analysis of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s proposals for the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Census Bureau, and Bureau of Economic Analysis.

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Posted in Issue 16 (August 8), Update, Volume 36 (2017)

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