Window On Washington - August 20, 2018, Vol. 2, Issue 33
Outlook for This Week in the Nation's Capital
Senate Appropriations. The Senate is planning to begin work today on its minibus package that contains the defense and labor, health, and education appropriations bills. The package covers 70 percent of discretionary spending. The Senate was supposed to begin work on the bill last week, but the package was stalled after not enough Senators returned to the chamber last week after their recess. The Senate calendar says that debate on the bill will begin today and votes on amendments are expected to begin as early as this evening.
Recess. The House remains in recess until after Labor Day.
Last Week in the Nation's Capital
Senate to Take Up Massive HHS Spending Bill: Lawmakers are poised to debate a massive appropriations package this week that will fund the departments of defense, education, labor, and health. The Senate has not passed a standalone funding bill for labor, health or education since 2007. Every other time it's been part of an omnibus. But,it remains to be seen if the bill can be kept clean of poison pill amendments once it gets to the floor. Senate leaders want to avoid the types of riders on controversial issues that are typically added in the House, such as limitations on abortion and scrapping funding linked to the Affordable Care Act. (The Hill)
Trump Administration to Attempt to Kill $3B in Foreign Aid: The White House budget office believes it has found a way to cancel about $3 billion in foreign aid even if it is never approved by Congress, according to a Republican aide familiar with the plan. Using an obscure budget rule, administration officials are planning to freeze billions of dollars in the State Department’s international assistance budget — just long enough so the funds will expire. The current plan involves about $3 billion, though officials are said to have discussed as much as $5 billion. (Politico)
Senate Health Committee to Hold Hearing on Prioritizing Cures at NIH: The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing on Thursday at which National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins will testify about prioritizing cures at NIH. (Senate HELP)
U.S. Energy Research Agency Doesn’t Need a Scientist at the Helm, Congress Tells Nominee: The first reviews from Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on President Donald Trump’s choice of an investment banker to lead a cutting-edge energy research agency are in, and they are positive. The Senators who will judge the nomination of S. Lane Genatowski don’t seem to think that his lack of technical training will hinder his ability to direct the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. At the same time, several Democrats wonder why anyone would volunteer to head an agency that his boss has said he wants to eliminate. (ScienceMag)
Senate Republicans Clarify Intent of TCJA Provisions: A group of Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee is asking the Internal Revenue Service and the Treasury Department to issue guidance based on the Senators' explanation of the congressional intent behind several provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act related to qualified improvement property expensing, the net operating loss deduction, and sexual misconduct settlements. However, it is unusual for one party to dictate the “congressional intent” of tax provisions to the IRS and the Treasury and insist that they draw up guidance in that way. (Accounting Today)
In Congress, Election Security Proposals Aim at 2020 Cycle: While most of the discussion around election security tends to focus on protecting the 2018 fall elections, much of the federal guidance and legislative proposals currently under consideration would likely have limited impact this year. Two bills in Congress – The Secure Elections Act and the PAVE Act – would implement a number of best-practice policies around cybersecurity and vote tabulation that are endorsed by most experts. Yet, some of the most impactful provisions from those bills, such as grant funding to replace obsolete or out-of-support voting machines or require states to use paper ballots, would take years to implement before states realized results. Other proposals, like the Department of Homeland Security speeding up security clearances for state and local election officials, could have had an impact had they been passed earlier, but will provide few tangible benefits less than three months out from election day. (FCW)
Name Change Eludes DHS Cyber Wing, Spurring Frustration: The Senate has failed to pass legislation that would rename a little-recognized office at the Department of Homeland Security, which has become a leading player in the U.S. government’s efforts to protect elections from Russian interference. It originated and was passed by the House in December. The lack of progress has left Homeland Security officials and others on Capitol Hill baffled and frustrated. The bill is straightforward and not viewed as particularly contentious. The idea is to give the Homeland Security office responsibility for securing federal networks and protecting U.S. critical infrastructure from cyber and physical sabotage – now called the National Protection and Programs Directorate, or NPPD – a more targeted name, and to restructure it into a full-fledged agency. Under the bill, the office would be rebranded the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency – which proponents say would better communicate its mission to key industries and help them recruit and retain high-quality personnel. (The Hill)
Senate to Consider Massive Spending Bill, Faces Trump Objections: U.S. Senators agreed to debate and vote in the next few days on more than $850 billion in spending on defense, labor, and healthcare programs, as the Trump administration announced its objections to some parts of the bill. The so-called “minibus” appropriations bill includes nearly $675 billion in spending for the Department of Defense, as well as about $182 billion for an array of domestic programs under the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and related agencies. Congressional aides said the Senate combined the two bills in the hope that President Donald Trump would not veto the domestic spending measure. (Reuters)
New Fiscal Cliff? Defense Spending Could Drop by $71 Billion Next Year if There’s No New Budget Deal: A new assessment by the Congressional Budget Office is tossing a bucket of cold water on Trump’s budget victory. After two years of spending hikes, the much-maligned Budget Control Act caps are set to snap back into place next year and could force a $71 billion reduction in total defense spending. The cap for the Defense Department will fall from $647 billion in fiscal 2019 to $576 billion, the CBO said. It’s a good bet that the military was already used to the idea that another big boost in funding is not in the cards after defense hawks, such as Sen. John McCain and Rep. Mac Thornberry, pushed through buildup-size budgets for fiscal years 2018 and 2019. But, the roughly 11 percent cut could put pressure on Pentagon budget priorities, such as the Space Force, which it will ask Congress to authorize next year. The spending caps were set by the Budget Control Act of 2011. But, Congress has managed to pass a series of deals to raise them each year since. (Washington Examiner)
Banking & Housing
Elizabeth Warren Takes on Banks and Corporate Giants as She Lays 2020 Marker: Sen. Elizabeth Warren is keeping Wall Street centered in her sights as she lays the policy foundation for a potential presidential bid. The Massachusetts Democrat unveiled a proposal Wednesday aimed at fundamentally recalibrating the mission of the biggest corporations, pushing them away from maximizing immediate returns for shareholders and executives and toward investing in longer-term value and sharing gains with workers. The bill, called the Accountable Capitalism Act, won’t win Warren new fans in C-suites. But, it’s telling that she premiered it in hostile territory, describing her thinking in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. (The Washington Post)
Trump Readies New Round of Controversial Medicaid Changes: The Trump administration is preparing to let conservative-led states impose additional restrictions on the nation’s health program for the poor that could push tens of thousands of people off coverage. The high-stakes changes, involving work requirements and questions about illegal drug use, have been the subject of intense behind-the-scenes lobbying in recent months by federal and state lawmakers in the latest chapter of the GOP’s long-running efforts to reshape Medicaid — a policy priority extending back to the Reagan era. (Politico)
NIH Begins Trial of Zika Vaccine: The first clinical trial of a live, weakened Zika vaccine in humans has begun after being developed by scientist at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. NIH is sponsoring the trial among 28 healthy, non-pregnant adults ages 18 to 50 at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for Immunization Research in Baltimore, Md., and at the Vaccine Testing Center at the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont in Burlington. (UPI)
HHS Grants Health Centers $125M for Quality Improvement, EHR Use: HHS recently granted health centers in all 50 states and territories $125 million in health center quality improvement awards, including EHR Reporters Awards offered for health centers that employed EHRs to report on all clinical quality measures between 2016 and 2017. All but 9 states received more than $1 million in awards. California received the highest award with $18,886,440 in grants devoted to quality improvement for health centers throughout the state. (EHRIntelligence)
GAO Raps Pentagon, Services for not Properly Tracking Aviation Mishap Data: As the military faces an alarming uptick in plane crashes and other aviation-related mishaps, some fatal, the Government Accountability Office took the Army, Navy, and Air Force to task for not tracking aviation mishap data in the same way. For example, GAO said in a report to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, the Army uses its own processes to define types of aviation mishaps. And, when mishap data isn’t standardized across services, they don’t speak a “common language,” GAO said. This makes it harder to accurately measure trends of how mishaps are changing, analyze what risks exist that could lead to mishaps, and effectively share lessons learned with one another. (Air Force Times)
Labor & Workforce
New Labor Contract Limits Full Automation at East and Gulf Coast Ports: The International Longshoremen's Association (ILA) last week released a video urging its members to approve an $18.3 billion labor deal with the United States Maritime Alliance (USMX) and secure port peace through 2024. The deal prohibits fully automated terminals and equipment, creates a model for workforce protection as technology creates new jobs, outlines an expedited arbitration process to address labor grievances, and boosts wages, vacation and healthcare compensation. (Supply Chain Dive)
Why We Should Train Workers Like We Train Machine Learning Algorithms: The evolution of workforce opportunity in the United States depends on the future of education and our commitment to far-reaching, equitable federal reform. Unfortunately, policy conversations at the federal and state levels about transforming education systems to meet future workforce demands have focused disproportionately on a skills agenda, largely ignoring behavioral competencies that often complement and enhance the value of technical skills. (Brookings)
Ford Says Slow and Steady Will Win the Self-driving Car Race: Ford doesn’t want to be the first company to offer self-driving cars to the public; it wants to be the brand most synonymous with the word “trust.” At least, that’s what the company says in its self-driving safety report, which it delivered to the U.S. Department of Transportation last week. (The Verge)
Space, NASA & NOAA
NASA Deputy Administrator Nominee Seeks Focus on Managerial and Acquisition Issues: The space industry outsider nominated to become NASA deputy administrator said he would focus on acquisition reform and adapting NASA to a “new role” with commercial partners if confirmed by the Senate. The Senate Commerce Committee announced Aug. 16 that it will take up the nomination of James Morhard to be the second-in-command of NASA during an Aug. 23 hearing. It also released a questionnaire completed by Morhard providing his biographical background and explanations about his qualifications for and interest in the position. (Space News)
NASA Solar Probe Hits 1st Deep-Space Milestones On Its Way to the Sun: The deep-space journey of NASA's epic sun-touching mission has started out well. The Parker Solar Probe, which launched early Sunday morning (Aug. 12) from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, is notching flight milestones according to plan, NASA officials said. The mission will make observations that could help solve some long-standing mysteries — why the sun's outer atmosphere, or corona, is so much hotter than its surface, for example, and how the charged particles that make up the solar wind are accelerated to their high speeds. (Space.com)
America’s New Intelligence Research Chief Wants to Predict Cyberattacks. Can it Work?: On the day she, Stacey Dixon, was named to the position, the new director of the intelligence community’s research arm emphasized using machine learning to forecast cyberattacks. “You are going to need algorithms that you trust, algorithms that you understand, and ones that you can let run and not really have concerns about,” said Dixon on the “Intelligence Matters” podcast. During the interview, Dixon said machine learning was “extremely important,” to the intelligence community’s research portfolio. Dixon said the agency has invested in predictive analytics programs which “forecast that someone is going to be attacked through cyber means.” The approach uses “sensors” – physical or analytical – that can predict which industry or entity is vulnerable to cyberattacks, she said. (Fifth Domain)
Trump has Scrapped a 2012 Policy on When to Attack in Cyberspace: The Trump administration kicked off a new era of government cyber operations by “rescinding” a presidential directive that had restricted offensive capabilities, but experts warned the move would not be sufficient in deterring state-based hacking. A Trump administration official speaking to Fifth Domain declined to elaborate on the policy change, although the replacement is likely to allow for greater offensive operations. Under the previous rules, approved in 2012, cyber operations that resulted in “significant consequences” required presidential approval. Current and former military and intelligence officials have told Fifth Domain that the previous rules led to Cyber Command being overly cautious in cyberspace. (Fifth Domain)
Justice Department Touts New Immigration Judges, Quicker Hiring: As the Justice Department’s immigration review office struggles with children coming across the border, it is hailing progress in reducing long-standing delays in hiring more immigration judges. On Aug. 10th, 23 new judges were invested by the department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, the largest class since at least 2010, the department announced. That represents a cut in average hiring time by more than 50 percent, which the department said was the result of Attorney General Jeff Sessions' effort at streamlining hiring under deadlines announced last year. (Government Executive)
Trump Administration Cracking Down on Production of Prescription Opioids: The Trump administration is using new powers to propose a significant decrease in how many opioids drug companies can manufacture in the U.S. in 2019. The Justice Department and Drug Enforcement Administration are proposing an average 10 percent decrease next year in the manufacturing quotas for six frequently misused opioids. A final rule released in July gave the agency the authority to consider a drug's potential for abuse when setting its annual opioid production limits. Before the rule was finalized, the agency could only consider factors like past sales and estimated demand. The proposed quotas for 2019 would decrease manufacturing for oxycodone, hydrocodone, oxymorphone, hydromorphone, morphine, and fentanyl. (The Hill)
Law Enforcement Advancing Data and Science (LEADS) Initiative Strategic Plan, 2018-2023: The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) developed the LEADS Strategic Plan to describe its current and projected efforts to increase the use of evidence and science in law enforcement and to support practitioner-led research. This document will be of interest to researchers (academia, government, and law enforcement), federal, state, and local government partners, and stakeholders in the justice system. It offers a roadmap for NIJ’s plans for expanding the LEADS Initiative. For the complete report please click here. (NIJ)
Southern States Among Hardest Hit by China Tariffs: Exporters in manufacturing-heavy states such as Alabama, South Carolina and Kentucky are among those that stand to lose the most from a protracted trade war with China, according to a U.S. News analysis of government trade data that suggests newly erected trade barriers into the Chinese market could stifle industries shipping billions of dollars of goods into Asia's largest economy each year. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates the U.S. exported nearly $130 billion in commodities to China last year, an increase of nearly $14 billion from 2016's trade total. Newly erected tariffs on some of those goods – a byproduct of a tit-for-tat trade conflict that's developed between President Trump's administration and members of Chinese President Xi Jinping's regime – stand to raise prices on U.S. exports, with farmers and manufacturers, in particular, concerned about their products getting priced out of the world's second-largest economy. (U.S. News)
DHS Wants a Streamlined Way to Assess Technology Supply Chain Risk: The agency issued a request for information for help in conducting market research on supply chain risk assessment capabilities and the goal is to end up with a tool or process that will allow stakeholders to conduct due diligence on information and communications technology services they might use. When such a capability is developed, DHS plans to share it with other agencies on the federal, state, local, tribal and territorial level, as well as critical infrastructure owners and operators. (Fed Scoop)
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