Federal Relations

June 29, 2012

Student Loans and Transportation Research

The House and Senate both will take action today on the conference agreement to HR 4348, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21). The agreement reauthorizes federal highway, transit, and other surface transportation programs through September 30, 2014, at current funding levels with inflationary increases for certain programs. It consolidates or eliminates dozens of programs, and streamlines environmental reviews of proposed projects to more quickly begin construction. The measure also extends for an additional year the 3.4 percent interest rate for new federally subsidized student loans (Stafford Loans), and it overhauls the federal flood insurance program to help make it actuarially sound. To cover Highway Trust Fund shortfalls, the measure transfers $21.2 billion in general fund and other monies, and offsets the costs of those transfers through changes to pension law and other provisions. The measure does not include controversial House GOP-supported provisions that would have approved the Keystone XL pipeline, or shifted regulation of coal ash from EPA to the states.

MAP-21 includes language reauthorizing the University Transportation Centers (UTCs), which conduct transportation and transit related research as well as developing the future workforce in these fields.  UW operates the UTC for USDOT Region X.  We successfully retained language in the final bills to reauthorize Regional UTCs, which were under threat of elimination in earlier iterations of the bill. Specifically, HR 4348:

  • Authorizes 5 National Centers at $3 million each; 10 Regional Centers at $2.75 million each; and 20 Tier 1 Centers at $1.5 million each.
  • Requires Tier 1 Centers to have a 50 percent match and all other Centers a 100 percent match.
  • Requires one of the regional centers to focus on “comprehensive safety” as their main research issue.
  • Requires USDOT to establish a competitive recompletion for all Centers at the same time and no later than 1 year from enactment. 

The Office of Federal Relations is discouraged to see that everyone will need to re-complete within a year as they just went through this process last fall.  And, the overall authorization is only for two years, so all of this will come up again before we know it, and may require Centers to re-compete again.