Government Relations Update September 2019
Federal Shutdown Avoided by Short Term Funding Legislation
On September 27, the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2020 and Health Extenders Act, 2019 (H.R. 4378) was signed into law. This legislation provides an extension of funding for the federal government until November 21, avoiding a shutdown that would have otherwise occurred after the end of FY 2019 on September 30. Congress and the Administration will now have a few additional weeks to negotiate a longer-term deal on funding the government in FY 2020.
Defense Authorization Contains Important Cybersecurity Legislation
The National Defense Authorization Act is a key piece of legislation taken up each year by Congress to provide guidance for the annual budget and expenditures for the Department of Defense, as well as priorities and strategy for other agencies with U.S. national security responsibilities. This year’s bill (H.R. 2500), which passed the House on July 12 and was received by the Senate for consideration on September 10, includes the text of a cybersecurity bill that was originally introduced earlier this year. That bill, the Securing American Science and Technology Act of 2019 (H.R. 3038), contains provisions that may be relevant to how the higher education community handles their research activities, especially those funded by the federal government.
The bill is primarily focused on creating an interagency working group, led by the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). This group, made up of representatives from a number of agencies with science and national security expertise, will analyze potential threats and vulnerabilities “within the United States scientific and technological enterprise” as well as identify and assess “existing mechanisms for control of federally funded research and development” while also working to “delineate areas that may require additional control.” While this working group may only be intended to focus on issues within relevant agencies, it is possible that their work will extend to assessments of research activity at higher education institutions.
Additionally, the bill also proposes a “National Science, Technology, and Security Roundtable” to be formed in addition to the working group, which will include officials from relevant agencies “as well as key stakeholders in the United States scientific enterprise including institutions of higher education, Federal research laboratories, industry, and non-profit research organizations.” The bill includes an authorization for appropriations totaling $5 million over five years to ensure an independent funding stream for the operation of the group, including organizing workshops and issuing public reports. This roundtable should provide a forum for the higher education community to share their expertise and ideas with policymakers as they develop future solutions to emerging cybersecurity issues.
House Committee Holds Hearing on Broadband Mapping
On September 11, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology held a hearing focused on addressing problems with existing broadband mapping data. Members of the subcommittee shared their support for legislation to improve the process by which the federal government collects information on broadband coverage. The witnesses called by the committee voiced support for a comprehensive legislative package including all or part of the five bills examined by the committee in the hearing. Those bills included the Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technology Availability Act (H.R. 4229), the Mapping Accuracy Promotion Services Act (H.R. 4227), the Map Improvement Act of 2019 (H.R. 4128), the Broadband Data Improvement Act of 2019 (H.R. 3162), and the Broadband Mapping After Public Scrutiny Act of 2019 (H.R. 2643).
Subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle (PA-18) expressed an interest in ensuring that any legislation advanced by his colleagues mirror similar legislation in the Senate as closely as possible to expedite the process of moving such a bill through Congress. This would include a focus on requiring the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to collect more “granular” data on broadband coverage while creating a “user-friendly challenge process” to allow the public to weigh in on the accuracy of federal maps. Chairman Doyle also shared his desire to move forward with a formal markup of legislation that can be passed on to the full committee for consideration in the coming weeks, though no timeline was given.