The final week of session before the August recess is always a frenetic time. This year marked no exception, with research and education priorities taking a backseat to pressing national crises.
Some Crises Addressed, but Border Crisis Baffles
Pressure mounted on both the House and Senate to address a host of crises before adjourning for recess. They needed to reform long waits and mismanagement in the VA health system, provide emergency funding and new legal tools to respond to the immigration crisis at the southern border, and inject cash to support an evaporating highway trust fund (HTF).
With time running out, the verdict was mixed. For the better, both the Senate and House came together to pass a broad VA reform bill with overwhelming bipartisan support. While only a temporary solution, the chambers compromised on a bill to keep the HTF afloat through May.
Yet neither the Democratic-controlled Senate nor the Republican-controlled House has been able to pass any legislation to respond to the border crisis. One day after voting to sue President Obama for exceeding his constitutional authority, the House had to pull from the Floor, due to a lack of votes, a modest supplemental funding bill that would give President Obama more authority to deport alien minors. The House also sought to strip the President's ability to grant work authorization and to halt deportations for those brought to the United States illegally as children ("DREAMers") under the Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Some conservatives contend this program has fueled the humanitarian crisis of children at the southern border.
At press time, House Republicans remained huddled in the Capitol in an attempt to reach consensus on a border bill. Many believe they cannot leave town without responding to the crisis. Even if the House is able to cobble together the votes to persuade remaining conservatives, few believe such a measure would stand any chance of Senate passage.
Campus Sexual Assault Bills Introduced
A bipartisan coalition of U.S. Senators held a press conference on Wednesday to announce their introduction of legislation aimed to mitigate sexual assault on college campuses—the Campus Accountability and Safety Act (CASA). Among other provisions, the bill would mandate annual campus climate surveys, ensure minimum training standards for on-campus personnel, require universities to enter into memoranda of understanding with local law enforcement agencies, and increase penalties for Clery Act violations. Over on the House side, a bipartisan group of 18 Members, including Rep. Cheri Bustos, introduced companion legislation.
OGR is currently in communication with all three campuses about the legislation. The bill sponsors in both chambers are hoping to move the bills in September once Members return from recess.
Congress Takes a Knee on Appropriations
Congress will enter its five-week summer recess without having approved a single FY15 appropriations bill. So far, the Senate Appropriations Committee has approved eight of 12 funding bills, but none has been approved by the full Senate. The House Appropriations Committee has approved every bill except the bill that funds NIH and the Department of Education. The whole House has approved seven bills, including those that fund NSF, DOE-Science, and the Department of Defense.
The ongoing impasse between the House and Senate will require approval of a short-term continuing resolution (CR) before September 30, which would extend federal spending at current levels, for a time to be determined. Given how close we are to November's elections, a repeat of last October's government shutdown is not likely.
UI Supports 'Manufacturing Universities' Bill
Sens. Christopher Coons (D-DE) and Lindsay Graham (R-SC) introduced bipartisan legislation this week allowing the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to designate up to 25 “manufacturing universities.” The legislation is aimed at shrinking the skills gap by incentivizing engineering programs to focus on advanced manufacturing. Designated universities could receive $20 million over four years.
The Association of American Universities (AAU) and the Assocition of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) were quick to support the bill, as did individual universities, including the University of Illinois.
INNOVATION DEFICIT ANNIVERSARY A SUCCESS
Thursday marked the one-year anniversary of the "Close the Innovation Deficit" messaging campaign launched by a coalition of research universities, professional societies, and industry. Those following the #InnovationDeficit hashtag were inundated by a diverse blend of University of Illinois voices urging Congress and President Obama to prioritize investments for research and higher education.
Each of our three campuses contributed to the social media activity, as did a variety of University Administration units. Special thanks to University Relations, which highlighted UI President Robert Easter's congressional testimony, Vice President for Research Larry Schook, who focused on the UI innovation pipeline, and Illinois_Alma, who highlighted Chancellor Wise's advocacy to close the innovation deficit. Additional thanks to Illinois Connection, Urbana's Vice Chancellor for Research, Urbana's Office of Technology Management, UIC News, UIC Science, UIC Innovations, UISedu, and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications for helping us amplify this message. OGR took to Twitter in a meme that co-opted iconic movie scenes and quotes to advance the innovation deficit message.
At UI's request, several Members of Congress jumped in to the conversation as well, including Reps. Rodney Davis and Randy Hultgren, who both used the Throwback Thursday convention to share pictures from past events they participated in with UI that centered around the importance of federally-funded basic research. OGR thanks these members for helping get the innovation deficit message out to their fans and followers.
Earlier this week, a group of early-career faculty visited DC as part of the Research Academy established by the College of ACES Office of Research at Urbana. The trip is designed to help the new faculty members form relationships with federal agencies and learn more about research funding opportunities. The seven assistant professors were led by the director of the Academy, Elvira de Mejia, as well as Interim Assistant Dean Prasanta Kalita, and Research Communications and Grant Development Specialist, Kathryn Partlow. In addition to meeting with program officers from various federal agencies, they met with the OGR staff and Lewis-Burke Associates, where they were given an outlook on the federal budget and appropriations process. The group of assistant professors included Nathan Schroeder, Erica Thieman, Judith Havlicek, Karen Tabb Dina, Laura Selmic, Paul Eubig, and Morgan Hayes. Another group of 2014 Research Academy members will be visiting in mid-August.
With the summer coming to a close, we must bid farewell to our first Washington intern, LaVontae Brooks. He's been an incredible asset to our office, and we wish him all the best as he returns to Urbana to embark on his senior year. Thank you, LaVontae, for your great work!
Pictured left: LaVontae with Illinois in Washington interns, Sen. Dick Durbin, and Sen. Mark Kirk at one of the Senators' constituent coffees.