Legislative Activity

Senate HELP Committee Forms Higher Education Act Reauthorization Working Groups

In a joint statement released on May 21, Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) announced the formation of bipartisan working groups tasked with addressing four key areas within the Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization. The four working groups, composed of HELP committee staff from both parties, will focus on issues of accountability, accreditation, college affordability and financial aid, and campus sexual assault. Though committee staff will lead the meetings, all Senate HELP Committee members will be invited to attend. Senators Alexander and Murray noted they look forward to the bipartisan collaboration in the weeks to come as the reauthorization process continues to progress. A draft HEA bill is expected this fall.

House Passes America COMPETES Act

The House passed the America COMPETES Act (H.R. 1806) just before the Memorial Day recess. The bill authorizes the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science. House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) wrote the bill, which authorizes an overall five percent increase in funding. The funding increase supports research accounts for engineering, computer science, biology, and math/physical sciences, while the bill reduces research funding for geosciences, social sciences, and renewable energy and efficiency. Additionally, the bill curtails climate change research at DOE.

Congressional Democrats are largely displeased with the bill. In fact, the bill did not have any Democratic cosponsors, despite the fact that this legislation received bipartisan support in the past. The Democrats, instead, have supported an alternative America COMPETES Reauthorization Act (H.R. 1898), which will remain stalled in the House. Additionally, the White House has spoken out against the America COMPETES Act with President Obama’s science advisor, John Holdren, commenting that the bill would be bad for science and the country’s global leadership in the area of scientific enterprise.

In the Senate, Sen. Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, and  Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), member of the Energy and Water Development Subcommittee, have introduced a bill to reauthorize the energy programs included in the America COMPETES Act (S. 1398). The bill has already received bipartisan support, with six cosponsors, including chairwoman and ranking members of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA), and ranking member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).

The bill would authorize a four percent increase in annual funding for basis energy research and reauthorize the DOC Office of Science and DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) for five years. The bill also would reform five DOE programs and eliminate another six programs that have not been fully implemented. Additionally, the bill would authorize competitive grant programs aimed at building and maintaining scientific talent in this country. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is likely to consider the legislation this summer.

This Week’s Hearings:

  • Tuesday, June 2: The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitution and Civil Justice Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing titled “First Amendment Protections On Public College And University Campuses.”
  • Wednesday, June 3: The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing  titled “Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act: Ensuring College Affordability.”