April 23, 2007
In this issue:
The highest profile event of interest this week will be the Wednesday House Education and Labor Committee hearing on student lending practices. New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, will testify about his investigation of lenders and preferential treatment from college financial aid officials.
Campus and school safety are the focus of several hearings this week in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shootings. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs kicks it off with a hearing on college security today, closely followed by a House Education and Labor hearing on school safety. House Homeland Security weighs in Tuesday with a hearing on school safety, and House Education and Labor with conduct a second safety hearing Thursday, focusing solely on college campus safety. None of the committee chairs have announced further courses of action, but each has stated they their interest lies in prospective measures, not a rehashing of last week’s events.
Two bills of interest will be considered on the House floor this week. H.R. 362 aims to strengthen math and science education through such means as increasing scholarships for students majoring in science and engineering fields who are committed to teaching, and creating a teacher education program at NSF that would include an in-service training program for math and science teachers. H.R. 363 would authorize NSF and the Department of Energy to make early-career awards to young scientists and engineers, create a presidential innovation award, create an office in the President’s Office of Science and Technology Policy to set priorities among research infrastructure needs, and recognize NASA’s contribution to national innovation.
Both are expected to pass without controversy.
In other competitiveness action, the House Science and Technology Committee will markup bills reauthorizing the National Science Foundation (H.R. 1867) and promoting technological innovation (H.R. 1868). H.R. 1867 authorizes funding levels over three years that will place the agency’s research budget on a track to double within 10 years, as the President has recommended, and seeks to encourage young investigators, improve K-16 math and science education, and encourage university-industry research partnerships. H.R. 1868 will change the name of the Advanced Technology Program to the “Technology Innovation Program” and allow universities, for the first time, to lead in university-industry projects. This change also would allow universities to retain the intellectual property rights of inventions developed through joint projects with industry. The inability of universities to lead projects and to retain intellectual property rights has discouraged them from participating in the ATP program.
The Senate Commerce Committee will mark up a data protection bill Wednesday that will require companies to notify their customers in the event of a data breach if there is a "reasonable risk" that their personal information could be used for identity theft. The bill will also pre-empt state data protection laws and give consumers the right to freeze their credit files. At this time, the bill is focused solely on commercial entities, but there have been concerns raised that it may be extended to non-profits as well at a future date.
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The Senate has begun consideration today of the “America COMPETES Act” (S. 761), their version of a comprehensive competitiveness bill. A final vote is expected Tuesday. The bill contains new funding authorization levels for several research agencies, including the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Energy Office of Science, and it would expand and create new programs aimed at improving K-12 math and science education as well as establish a President’s Council on Innovation and Competitiveness to develop a comprehensive agenda to promote innovation and competitiveness.
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An increase in the federal tobacco tax has been proposed to offset the recommended increase in SCHIP funds. Projections of needed SCHIP increase range as high as $50 billion over the next five years, and these funds would need to be offset elsewhere in the budget. Estimates show that raising the tobacco tax to $1 per pack would bring in as much as $35 billion in revenues. Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell (D-MI) suggested that hiking the cigarette tax might be politically unrealistic, and he has proposed cutting overpayments to Medicare Advantage providers.
It has been reported in the National Journal that clinical laboratory groups have launched an awareness campaign to spread the word on Capitol Hill that laboratories face increasing oversight and waning federal reimbursement. A bill by Senator Kennedy to give the FDA the authority to require all clinical laboratory tests go through the agency's approval process has spurred the groups’ concerns.
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