Federal Officials and University Engagement
The Office of Federal Relations coordinated more than 50 meetings on Capitol Hill; more than 40 events in D.C. and Ohio; and engaged more than 100 administrators, faculty and students in direct advocacy efforts ranging from meetings with members of the Ohio Congressional Delegation to testifying before congressional panels and a Senate Committee. Throughout the year, members of Congress and senior congressional staff visited the Columbus campus and toured numerous campus research facilities. Ohio State again collaborated with the Columbus Partnership and leaders of the city of Columbus and central Ohio civic and business community, to host senior Congressional staff to highlight the strong regional collaboration in establishing the Smart Columbus program.
The 2016 Election set the tone for the second session of the 114th Congress and the federal legislative and political landscape throughout the year, with the focus of both parties in Congress on members up for tough re-election battles and the respective party nominees for president. President Barack Obama entered the year seeking to solidify his legacy, while new House Speaker Paul Ryan (R – WI) began his tenure with the broad support of a caucus that posed challenges for previous Speaker John Boehner (R – OH). Despite the limited legislative calendar and a politically charged environment, a number of positive legislative and policy accomplishments occurred in 2016 as a result of advocacy work by Ohio State and the broader higher education and research communities.
In December, Congress passed and the President signed into law H.R. 34, the legislative vehicle for the 21st Century Cures Act and a comprehensive package of medical innovation bills, which substantially increased federal investment in biomedical research programs. The outcome was the culmination of nearly two years of extensive bipartisan and bicameral cooperation. The higher education and research communities strongly supported the legislation, with Ohio State’s Senior Vice President for Research Carol Whitacre and Executive Vice President of Health Sciences and CEO of the Wexner Medical Center Dr. Sheldon Retchin each sending letters to the Ohio Congressional Delegation expressing the university’s strong support and urging passage of the legislation prior to adjournment of the 114th Congress.
National Defense Policy Bill
The conference report for the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017 (S. 2943) authorized an increase of FY 2017 funding for U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) research programs, with a focus on applied R&D. Among the research programs authorized for funding were two Ohio State research collaborations in the fields of materials science and silicon carbide applications, with the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. S. 2943 also included the creation of a “Manufacturing Universities” program, which was formally endorsed by Ohio State. The program establishes the Manufacturing Engineering Education Grant program within DoD to award grants to industry, nonprofits, universities or consortiums of such groups, to enhance or establish new programs in manufacturing engineering education.
Department of Labor Overtime Rule
Ohio State was also active on the regulatory front, in coordination with other higher education groups, regarding the proposed federal rule to raise the salary overtime threshold from $23,660 to $47,476. In addition to raising awareness of the issue, advocacy efforts focused on a request for either an exemption for higher education or a gradual phase-in of the rule. While the Obama administration did not grant specific exemptions for higher education, it is clear that there will be opportunities for lessening the impact, especially given that a federal court issued an injunction on Nov. 22, blocking implementation of the rule.
Graduate Student Health Insurance
In October, three federal agencies issued a document authorizing colleges and universities to continue providing subsidized student health insurance plans (SHIPs) to student employees without risk of the federal government asserting a university is violating the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The document acknowledges that SHIPs are often part of a "large and complex admission offer and acceptance process" and that Congress intended the ACA to preserve the ability of institutions of higher education to offer student health insurance plans. Prior to the document being issued, previous federal guidance indicated that universities were prohibited from offering SHIPs or reimbursements to student employees, as it would violate a rule barring employers from subsidizing the cost of individual market coverage. The outcome was the culmination of extensive outreach, education and advocacy efforts throughout 2016 by the higher education community to Congress and the administration.
FY 2017 Appropriations
Congress ended the year by passing a continuing resolution (CR) that freezes most discretionary spending at FY 2016 levels through April 28, 2017. FY 2016 appropriations added funding allocations to provide increases to federal programs, including investments in key research agencies — the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, National Institutes of Health and the Department of Defense, in addition to higher education priorities, such as the Pell Grant program. The CR did provide new FY 2017 funding for programs supported by the higher education and research communities in the aforementioned 21st Century Cures Act, including $352 million for the NIH Innovation Fund, $40 million for the Precision Medicine Initiative, $10 million for the BRAIN Initiative, $300 million for the cancer moonshot research program and $2 million for clinical research in regenerative medicine (with a one-to-one match of federal and non-federal funding).