Legislative Update: Dec 18, 2019

FY 2020 Spending Resolved

The end of the year brings a flurry of activity from Congress. As a December 20 deadline for action on annual spending bills approached, House and Senate leadership and the Trump administration struck a deal on FY 2020 spending that would give increases to domestic and defense priorities. With just days left before the deadline and the start of the holiday recess, lawmakers passed two large “mini-bus” spending bills that will invest a combined $1.3 trillion in the federal government for FY 2020.

Overall, the news is good for education, research, and other programs of interest to CUR and its members. Here are some highlights of the two-bill package:

  • There is $162.25 million each for the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities. This is the largest funding increase for the endowments in a decade.
  • Funding for the bipartisan favorite, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), will increase by $2.6 billion, to $41.7 billion.
  • The National Science Foundation (NSF) will see an additional $203 million, a 2.5-percent increase that expands its budget to $8.28 billion.
  • The Department of Energy’s Office of Science will grow by $415 million, or 6.3 percent, to exactly $7 billion.
  • Space science at NASA will rise by 3.4 percent, or $233 million, to $7.14 billion.
  • Basic research programs at the Department of Defense would see an increase of 3 percent, to $2.6 billion. (The Pentagon is a major funder of mathematics, engineering, and computer science studies.)
  • Research investments at the National Institute of Standards and Technology would increase by 4 percent, to $754 million. Its manufacturing extension program, which has repeatedly been targeted for elimination by the Trump White House, would actually grow by $6 million, to $146 million.
  • Federal TRIO programs would receive the same amount in FY 2020 as they did in FY 2019—$1.06 billion.
  • The Pell Grant maximum award would increase by $150, making it $6,345.
  • The Federal Work-Study program would see $50 million more, growing its budget to $1.2 billion.

SSS Applications Released
The FY 2020 application process for the Student Support Services (SSS) Program Competition has left many in undergraduate research wondering about its status and prospects. No doubt the stalled funding bills delayed the Department of Education’s process. Applications are due January 27, 2020. More information is available here. Earlier this year, the department sent a workshop PowerPoint presentation to everyone who registered for their Student Support Services pre-application workshops.

PCAST Holds Inaugural Meeting
For the first time during the Trump administration, the newly appointed President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology met last month. Noting that there is only one year left in this presidential terms, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director (and friend of undergraduate research) Kelvin Droegemeier told the group to remain focused during the first meeting, with an emphasis on “important policy achievements and actions to make a difference.” As is often the case during a Republican administration, this council consists largely of representatives of industry (versus academics, who are more popular members when Democrats are in the White House). Droegemeier suggested at the meeting that, unlike its predecessors, this panel will not produce detailed reports but will develop “actionable” recommendations to advance existing efforts in three “priority workstreams”: advancing “Industries of the Future,” bolstering the U.S. STEM workforce, and better engaging federal laboratories in the U.S. research enterprise. To date, President Trump has appointed 7 of 16 panelists.

Higher Education Act Update
Congress has been trying for years to update the Higher Education Act (HEA). In recent months, there has been bipartisan support for passing a narrow piece of higher education law that would simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), a longtime priority of Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee chair Lamar Alexander (R–TN), eliminate paperwork for income-driven student loan repayment plans, and establish a permanent funding stream from historically black and other minority-serving institutions. The Future Act has broad bipartisan and White House support but was caught up in the effort to enact a comprehensive HEA reauthorization. Alexander, who is retiring at the end of next year, seemed to be leveraging support for the bill to enact more elements of his higher education agenda. The House has passed a partisan bill—the College Affordability Act—but a reauthorization bill must be bipartisan to pass the Senate, and Alexander and Senator Patty Murray (D–WA) have been unable to reach agreement on some of the law’s stickiest issues such as Title IX implementation, the role of for-profit institutions in higher education, and loan limits. As an election year begins, however, most observers believe that, if there is not significant progress before the end of February, a revision of the law will have to wait until at least 2021. Between now and then, there will be an impeachment trial in the Senate, which could affect any goodwill on negotiation. In the meantime, CUR continues to tell members that undergraduate research is a strategy that fits into their stated goals of investing in efforts to support students in their academic endeavors so that they finish their course of study and can apply their valuable skills to academia or the workforce.


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