Federal Relations Update as of March 4, 2016



House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-GA) released a proposed FY17 budget on March 3 that maintains the discretionary spending levels approved in last year’s bipartisan budget agreement, but calls for $30 billion in additional mandatory spending cuts over two years. (That is the amount by which last year’s budget deal raised FY17 discretionary spending above the FY17 sequester level.) Defense would receive additional funding through the Overseas Contingency Operations fund. A separate reconciliation bill would be used to achieve the cuts in mandatory spending.

House Republican leaders are tweaking the package to get the 218 Republican votes they need to move the package forward, reports CQ.com. Some House conservatives want to cut the $30 billion in mandatory spending in one year not two, while supporters of defense are urging greater spending for defense.

Under last year’s agreement, defense discretionary spending would rise by about $3 billion in FY17 to $551 billion, and nondefense discretionary would rise by just $40 million to $518.5 billion.



Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Jerry Moran (R-KS) introduced legislation on March 3 that would allow colleges and universities to operate small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) for educational and research purposes, including the instruction of students.

Under current Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations, colleges and universities are treated the same as commercial drone users. This means that to use such systems, students and professors must apply for approval from the FAA, obtain a pilot’s license, and use only pre-approved aircraft.

According to a press release issued by Senator Peters, the Higher Education UAS Modernization Act would allow students and educators at colleges and universities to operate unmanned aircraft without requiring specific approval from the FAA by meeting the following requirements:

-The institution of higher education adopts a UAS policy and designates a UAS point of contact that is charged with reviewing and approving all educational and research UAS flights.
-Any educational and research UAS flight must be under the supervision of an experienced “operator in command” who will ensure safety.
-Educational and research UAS flights are restricted to 400 feet above ground; cannot cause hazard or harm to persons or property; must be identifiable; cannot survey or create a nuisance on private property; must give right of way to full scale aircraft; and must operate above sites that are sufficiently far from populated areas.
-If the UAS is involved in an accident causing injury to a person or property, such accident must be reported to the FAA within 10 days.
-If the UAS is to be flown within five miles of a major airport or within two miles of any other airport or heliport, the UAS operator in command must first obtain permission from Air Traffic Control or, in the case of a small airport or heliport, the airport manager.

--AAU and APLU Issue Joint Statement of Support

AAU and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) issued a joint statement thanking Senators Peters and Moran for introducing the bill and expressing support for it, stating that it “is critical to the work of colleges and universities that seek to safely conduct a wide range of research and educational activities involving sUAS.”

The two associations noted that sUAS are used by universities for a wide array of research and education purposes important to the nation’s innovation economy. These include “developing new and improved aviation systems, as well as research and teaching in areas as varied as animal health, plant toxicology, entomology, engineering, architecture, sustainable nutrient management, soil science, biogeochemistry, and aerospace engineering.”


The House Ways & Means Oversight Subcommittee, on March 2, held a hearing on “Protecting the Free Exchange of Ideas on College Campuses.”

Subcommittee Chairman Peter Roskam (R-IL) said in his opening statementthat the purpose of the hearing was to examine how tax-exempt colleges and universities “are suppressing the free exchange of ideas on campus.” The focus would be on “prohibitions on student use of campus resources for political activity, the adoption of restrictive speech codes, and incidents where administrators or students have silenced other students for seeking to engage in the exchange of opposing ideas.”

Ranking Member John Lewis (D-GA) in his opening statement questioned why the Oversight Subcommittee was holding the hearing because, in his view, the panel lacked jurisdiction “over future legislation, over freedom of speech, or college curriculum or school resources.”

Witnesses were Alexander Atkins from Georgetown University, Catherine Sevcenko from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, Joshua Zuckerman from the Princeton Open Campus Coalition, Robert Georgefrom Princeton University, and Frances Hill from the University of Miami School of Law.

Professor Hill, the sole tax law expert among the witnesses, argued that the Internal Revenue Service and the courts have provided reasonably clear guidance about what type of speech and political activity can jeopardize an organization’s nonprofit, 501(c)(3) status. The key determinant is whether or not the speech or activity can be attributed to the organization itself. She said students can “do almost anything.”


The House Select Panel to Protect Infant Lives held its first hearing on March 2 to examine the ethical implications of using fetal tissue in biomedical research.

Six witnesses testified: four selected by the Republican majority and two by the Democratic minority. The two witnesses invited by the Democrats were Larry Goldstein, Director of Sanford Stem Cell Clinical Center at the University of California, San Diego; and Alta Charo, Professor of Law and Bioethics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The hearing featured a heated partisan clash over both the scale of the document requests made by the panel’s Republican majority, which included subpoenas to three organizations, and the timing of the hearing to coincide with the Supreme Court’s hearing of an abortion case.

The panel has not announced its next steps.


On March 3, AAU - joined by the American Council on Education, Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, and EDUCAUSE - submitted comments in response to the U.S. Copyright Office's December 29 Notice of Inquiryregarding section 1201 of the Copyright Act. Section 1201 prohibits the circumvention of technological protection measures (TPMs) used by copyright owners to control access to their works. Section 1201, which was enacted in 1998 as part of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, also establishes a triennial rulemaking process through which the Librarian of Congress may grant narrow, time-limited exceptions to section 1201's bar on the circumvention of access controls.

The comments express the associations' longstanding concerns that section 1201 adversely affects the ability of the educational community to access copyrighted works for the purpose of engaging in lawful, non-infringing uses of those works and using uncopyrighted materials integrated in those works. In particular, the associations wrote, section 1201 and its burdensome and expensive rulemaking process encumber or chill educational and instructional activities (such as MOOCs and flipped classrooms) involving innovative technologies.

The associations ask the Copyright Office to consider a number of proposals for improving section 1201 and its rulemaking process, including limiting liability under section 1201 to instances in which circumvention of TPMs results in infringement of the underlying copyrighted work(s); creating a regulatory presumption for previously granted section 1201 exemptions, thus shifting the burden to those opposed to renewal of such an exemption; and, at a minimum, the drafting of broader and simpler exemptions that are easier for the public to interpret and apply.



AAU and the Council on Governmental Relations (COGR) on February 29submitted comments to the Department of Defense (DOD) concerning itssecond interim rule to modify the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulations (DFARS). The DFARS modifications would implement requirements by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to expand safeguards on sensitive but unclassified defense-related information, referred to as Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI). AAU and COGR had submitted comments onOctober 30, 2015 to an earlier version of the DOD interim rule.

The comment letter thanks DOD for delaying required implementation of the NIST requirements to December 31. 2017. This delay will help to reduce concerns the two associations raised in their previous comments regarding the significant compliance burden that would accompany implementation of the new CUI requirements.

The comments also address two additional concerns with the revised interim rule. First, an apparent contradiction between two reporting requirements contained in the rule could cause confusion about when and how to obtain acceptance from the DOD Chief Information Officer for variances to the NIST CUI requirements. Second, the rule leaves unclear whether or not universities that conduct only fundamental research for DOD are subject to the new CUI requirements. AAU and COGR previously urged DOD to include language in the rule that would exempt projects determined to be fundamental research from the new requirements.