117th Congress Passes FY2022 Omnibus Appropriations Bill

After a five-month delay, the 117th Congress passed a $1.5 trillion omnibus appropriations bill to fund the federal government for fiscal year 2022. This massive spending bill passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 361-69 and the Senate by a vote of 68-31. Since October 1, 2021, federal agencies have been running under a continuing resolution to fund the government at Fiscal Year 2021 levels. President Biden is expected to sign the bill into law later today.

In a press release, Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT) underscored the significant investments this omnibus appropriations bill will make to the nation’s federal research enterprise. The bill is also a commitment to the future of scientific research, development, and innovation in this country. It provides the largest increase in 12 years for the National Science Foundation (NSF). The NSF funds a quarter of all federally supported basic research conducted by colleges and universities in this country. It provides a 6 percent increase for the Department of Energy Office of Science, and a 5.3 percent increase for the National Institutes of Health to speed the development of new therapies, diagnostics, and preventative measures. It includes $1 billion to launch the Advanced Research Projects for Health (ARPA-H), President Biden’s proposal to revolutionize how we prevent, treat, and cure diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes.

House Education and Labor Committee Chair Bobby Scott (D-VA) stated in a press release regarding the legislation, “The package also provides significant investments to lower the cost of college, support vulnerable institutions of higher education, and promote pathways to rewarding careers.  Specifically, the bill includes the largest increase in the maximum Pell Grant—the cornerstone of our student aid system—in more than a decade and secures a notable funding increase for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities, and Minority Serving Institutions.”

A few highlights on federal agencies and programs that impact graduate education: 

  • Department of Education
    • $20 million increase in the Federal Work-Study program
    • $452.5 million increase in Higher Education programs
      • 42 percent increase in promoting postbaccalaureate opportunities for Hispanic Americans
      • $6 million increase in strengthening historically black graduate institutions
      • 35 percent increase in strengthening master’s degree programs at HBCUs
      • $3.5 million increase in international and foreign language studies, and
      • $40 million increase in Federal TRIO programs, including for the McNair Scholars program.
    • Department of Energy
      • $449 million increase for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science
    • National Science Foundation
      • $250 million increase in research and related activities directorate
      • $38 million increase in education and human resources directorate
    • National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities
      • $32.5 million increase each for the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities
    • Department of Health and Human Services
      • $2.2 billion increase for the National Institutes of Health
      • $1.7 billion increase for the Health Resources and Services Administration
        • 5 percent increase in graduate psychology education funding
        • 7 percent increase in children’s hospitals graduate medical education

Advocating for Competitiveness and Innovation Legislation

Last week, the Energy Sciences Coalition and the Coalition for International Education sent letters to Capitol Hill in support of a final competitiveness and innovation legislative package. As mentioned in previous Washington Insights & Highlights Newsletters, the Senate passed the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (USCIA) in June 2021 and the House of Representatives passed the America COMPETES Act of 2022 (COMPETES) in February 2022. Now that these bills have been passed, the two chambers are expected to announce a conference committee and begin negotiations to reconcile the two competitiveness bills.

In preparation for the commencement of conference committee negotiations, the Energy Sciences Coalition (ESC), of which CGS is a member, sent a  letter emphasizing the importance of growing core research in the physical sciences at the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. The ESC letter also underscores the importance of federal investments in new research and emerging technology initiatives to maintain U.S. leadership. The DOE-Office of Science sponsors graduate education programs, which are integral to the United States remaining at the forefront of energy technology development and innovation.

The ESC letter makes the following request of the soon-to-be-announced House and Senate Conferees, “We believe final legislation should support several key aspects critical to the future success of DOE and in particular the Office of Science: 1) growing core research in the physical sciences and other Office of Science-supported scientific disciplines, 2) investing in new research and emerging technology initiatives to maintain U.S. leadership, 3) accelerating the construction of world-class scientific user facilities and 4) expanding workforce development programs.”

The Coalition for International Education (CIE) letter urged the inclusion of legislative language concerning Title VI International Education programs in the final competitiveness and innovation package. The Department of Education Title VI and Fulbright-Hays programs support graduate students, including the Fulbright-Hays–Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad program and the Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowships program.

The CIE letter encourages House and Senate Conferees to include language from USCIA in a final competitiveness and innovation legislative package. The letter says, “While we appreciate that both bills include core provisions for HEA-Title VI reauthorization, we continue to strongly support, and respectfully urge the conferees to adopt, the bipartisan S. 1260 USICA version of the Title VI reauthorization, as it contains all the provisions important to include in the final bill. The Senate version most closely mirrors the bipartisan Advancing International and Foreign Language Education Act introduced in each of the 115th, 116th and 117th Congresses and broadly supported by the U.S. international higher education community.”

Applications for Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program Awards

On March 9, the Department of Education released a federal register notice opening applications for new awards for the McNair program. The McNair Program is one of the seven programs collectively known as the Federal TRIO Programs. The program awards grants to institutions of higher education for projects designed to provide disadvantaged college students with effective preparation for doctoral study.

National Institutes of Health Loan Repayment Programs

On March 8, the National Institutes of Health issued a notice of proposed rulemaking regarding Health Loan Repayment programs. The NIH proposes to update existing regulation to consolidate into the Intramural Loan Repayment Program (for NIH researchers) and the Extramural Loan Repayment Program (for non-NIH researchers). The rule also proposes increasing the annual loan repayment amount from a maximum of $35,000 to a maximum of $50,000. Comments must be received on or before May 9, 2022.

Department of Veterans Affairs Seeks Public Comment on GI Bill School Feedback Tool

In today’s Federal Register, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) issued a notice requesting the submission of comments from the public on the GI Bill School Feedback Tool. There are over 36,000 educational institutions that are approved for VA education benefits. As a result, the VA established this feedback tool to allow users, such as universities, to file anonymous complaints about the GI benefits program. As stated in the notice, the “VA believes that allowing anonymous complaints will garner more ground truth on what is happening with Veterans using their education benefits at different schools.”

All written comments must be submitted in 30 days of publication of this notice.

The 206th Meeting of the National Council on the Arts

The National Endowment for the Arts announced that the National Council on the Arts will meet on March 24. The meeting will consist of opening remarks and voting on recommendations for grant funding and rejection, followed by updates from the NEA Chair. Dr. Maria Rosaria Jackson was confirmed as the 13th NEA Chair in December 2021. The National Council on the Arts advises the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, who also chairs the Council, on agency policies and programs. It reviews and makes recommendations to the Chairman on applications for grants, funding guidelines, and leadership initiatives. You can register for the event here.