With the federal fiscal year having just closed Sept. 30 and Congress still working to complete action on funding for the new budget year, Gary Falle and his staff in Federal Government Relations (FGR) have been busy scrutinizing budget bills for how they will affect UC.
As the nation’s largest public research institution, UC has a lot at stake when federal lawmakers decide how much money to allocate each year to the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy and many other federal agencies.
“A significant amount of our work is looking at appropriations bills and making sure UC can compete for those dollars,” said Falle, who in March became the associate vice president for federal government relations.
“We look at the big picture, and make sure UC’s voice is heard as programs are being developed. We advocate UC’s interest before Congress, the Administration, and all the federal agencies.”
Connecting UC to DC
FGR’s work isn’t just about securing research dollars. They also connect lawmakers on Capitol Hill to experts from UC’s ten campuses, five medical centers and three national labs. Virtually every public policy issue to come before Congress is informed in some way by UC research.
From topics such as Sudden Oak Death, to national issues involving transportation, energy, and the economy, UC experts get involved. Following Hurricane Katrina, for instance, researchers from UC Berkeley presented testimony on levee safety.
“This is where you really see the diversity of the research going on at the University, and the impact of that work,” Falle said.
The Washington DC office also helps UC campuses, labs and medical centers build and maintain connections with influential people at the Capitol. “They help connect us with committee staff, agency staff, even the White House,” said Lars Walton, UC Riverside’s advocacy director. “It’s tough to develop those relationships from the campuses.”
For example, Mike Telson, the DC office’s energy and science advisor, is helping UC Riverside work with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to get their atmospheric chamber designated as a national center for climate study. The chamber, unique in the nation, can be used to create any kind of atmospheric condition, including temperature, humidity, ozone levels, and sunlight. It has the potential to be an important resource, both nationally and internationally.
But with travel budgets tight, Riverside officials can only make the trip to Washington DC a few times a year.
“There is no branch of the EPA here in Riverside. We’ve really got to be in Washington. We rely on Mike to develop those relationships, so it isn’t six months before the EPA hears from us again,” Walton said.
Hot Topics: Health Care & College Affordability
Health care reform is the big issue of the moment, and UC is right in the thick of it – both as a major employer facing spiraling health care costs and as the entity that runs the fourth largest health system in California.
“We have told the Administration and Congress we are for passage of comprehensive health care reform,” Falle said. “And we are well-positioned to provide input in the process – not only in terms of how medical care and medical education training is financed, but also critical thinking about how the existing health care delivery system can be improved to enhance efficiency and quality.”
For one thing, it’s important that Congress understand the unique challenges of running major academic medical centers whose primary mission is to provide world class clinical care, educate and train America’s next generation of caregivers, and conduct groundbreaking clinical and biomedical research, all of which is heavily reliant on sustained federal investment. “We’re trying to make the point to Congress that it wouldn’t be fair to compare us to hospitals in Minnesota, for instance, that don’t share our core mission and or have our demographic challenges,” Falle said. “You really can’t take a cookie-cutter approach.”
College affordability is another hot issue right now. FGR works closely with Congress and the Administration to expand and improve federal and student financial aid programs. In addition, with UC facing the unappealing prospect of more student fee hikes, UC President Mark G. Yudof, together with Falle and others – are talking with policymakers about whether and how the federal government should take on a different role when it comes to higher education.
In the past, public universities relied on state funding for their core education programs, while federal support has been directed to providing access for low-income students to colleges and universities. However, with state funding in sharp decline, President Yudof has come to Washington numerous times over the last year to say that it might also be time for the federal government to expand its role, if public universities are going to compete globally.
“To actually have the feds step in and provide core institutional support would be a change from how traditional funding has taken place,” Falle said. “But there at least needs to be a discussion about it.”