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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

United States Fire Administration: An Overview



Lennard G. Kruger
Specialist in Science and Technology Policy

The United States Fire Administration (USFA)—which includes the National Fire Academy (NFA)—is currently housed within the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The objective of the USFA is to significantly reduce the nation’s loss of life from fire, while also achieving a reduction in property loss and non-fatal injury due to fire.

P.L. 112-74, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, FY2012, provided $44.038 million for USFA in FY2012. The FY2013 budget proposal requested $42.52 million for USFA, a 3.4% reduction from the FY2012 level. Of the requested total appropriation, $13.327 million would be allocated to the National Fire Academy. On May 16, 2012, The House Appropriations Committee approved its version of the FY2013 Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill (H.R. 5855). The Committee recommended $42.46 million for USFA, which is $60,000 below the Administration request and $1.578 million below the FY2012 level (a 3.6% reduction). On May 22, 2012, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved $44.020 million for USFA for FY2013 (S. 3216). The Senate mark is $1.5 million above the Administration request. The Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2013 (P.L. 112-175) funds the USFA through the first six months of FY2013 at an increase of 0.612% of the FY2012 level. Therefore, under the FY2013 continuing resolution, AFG is funded at $44.307 million.

The latest authorization of the USFA expired on September 30, 2012. On November 29, 2012, the Senate adopted, by unanimous consent, USFA reauthorization language as part of an amendment to S. 3254, the FY2013 National Defense Authorization Act. On December 4, 2012, the Senate passed S. 3254 by a 98-0 vote. The Senate-passed defense authorization bill is going to conference with the House defense authorization bill, H.R. 4130. H.R. 4130, as passed by the House, does not contain the USFA reauthorization provision.

S. 3254, as passed by the Senate, would reauthorize USFA at a level of $76,490,890 for FY2013 through FY2017 (with $2.7 million set aside each year for technology and standards development); authorize the USFA Administrator to appoint a Deputy Administrator; authorize the Administrator to take such steps as the Administrator considers appropriate to educate the public and overcome public indifference as to fire, fire prevention, and individual preparedness; and remove the limitation on funding levels for updating the National Fire Incident Reporting System.

As is the case with many federal programs, concerns in the 113
th Congress over the federal budget deficit could impact future funding levels for the USFA. Debate over the USFA budget has focused on whether the USFA is receiving an appropriate level of funding to accomplish its mission, given that appropriations for USFA have consistently been well below the agency’s authorized level. An ongoing issue is the viability and status of the USFA and National Fire Academy within the Department of Homeland Security. .


Date of Report: December 6, 2012
Number of Pages: 10
Order Number: RS20071
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Friday, December 21, 2012

Assistance to Firefighters Program: Distribution of Fire Grant Funding



Lennard G. Kruger
Specialist in Science and Technology Policy

The Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) Program, also known as fire grants or the FIRE Act grant program, was established by Title XVII of the FY2001 National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 106-398). Currently administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the program provides federal grants directly to local fire departments and unaffiliated Emergency Medical Services (EMS) organizations to help address a variety of equipment, training, and other firefighter-related and EMS needs. A related program is the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Firefighters (SAFER) program, which provides grants for hiring, recruiting, and retaining firefighters.

The fire grant program is now in its 12
th year. The Fire Act statute was reauthorized in 2004 (Title XXXVI of P.L. 108-375) and provides overall guidelines on how fire grant money should be distributed. There is no set geographical formula for the distribution of fire grants—fire departments throughout the nation apply, and award decisions are made by a peer panel based on the merits of the application and the needs of the community. However, the law does require that fire grants be distributed to a diverse mix of fire departments, with respect to type of department (paid, volunteer, or combination), geographic location, and type of community served (e.g., urban, suburban, or rural).

For FY2012, P.L. 112-74, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, provided $675 million for firefighter assistance, including $337.5 million for AFG and $337.5 million for SAFER. The Administration’s FY2013 budget proposed $670 million for firefighter assistance, including $335 million for AFG and $335 million for SAFER. Both the House-passed FY2013 appropriations bill (H.R. 5855) and the Senate Appropriations Committee bill (S. 3216) provide $675 million ($337.5 million for AFG and $337.5 million for SAFER). The Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2013 (P.L. 112-175), funds firefighter assistance programs through the first six months of FY2013 at an increase of 0.612% of the FY2012 level. Therefore, under the FY2013 continuing resolution, AFG is funded at $339.5 million and SAFER is funded at $339.5 million.

On March 10, 2011, S. 550, the Fire Grants Authorization Act of 2011, was introduced into the Senate. On June 22, 2011, H.R. 2269, the Fire Grants Reauthorization Act of 2011, was introduced into the House. Previously in the 111
th Congress, reauthorization legislation for AFG and SAFER was passed by the House, but was not passed by the Senate. Debate over the reauthorization reflected a competition for funding between career/urban/suburban departments and volunteer/rural departments. The urgency of this debate was heightened by the proposed reduction of overall AFG funding in FY2011, and the economic downturn in many local communities increasingly hard pressed to allocate funding for their local fire departments.

On November 29, 2012, the Senate adopted, by unanimous consent, AFG and SAFER reauthorization language as an amendment to S. 3254, the FY2013 National Defense Authorization Act. On December 4, 2012, the Senate passed S. 3254 by a 98-0 vote. The Senatepassed defense authorization bill is going to conference with the House-passed defense authorization bill, H.R. 4130. H.R. 4130 does not contain firefighter assistance provisions. 
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Date of Report: December 5, 2012
Number of Pages: 26
Order Number: RL32341
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The Bayh-Dole Act: Selected Issues in Patent Policy and the Commercialization of Technology



Wendy H. Schacht
Specialist in Science and Technology Policy

Congressional interest in facilitating U.S. technological innovation led to the passage of P.L. 96- 517, Amendments to the Patent and Trademark Act (commonly referred to as the Bayh-Dole Act after its two main sponsors). The act provides patent rights to certain inventions arising out of government-sponsored research and development (R&D) to non-profit institutions and small businesses with the expressed purpose of encouraging the commercialization of new technologies through cooperative ventures between and among the research community, small firms, and industry.

Patents provide an economic incentive for companies to pursue further development and commercialization. Studies indicate that research funding accounts for approximately one-quarter of the costs associated with bringing a new product to market. Patent ownership is seen as a way to encourage the additional, and often substantial investment necessary for generating new goods and services in the private sector. In an academic setting, the possession of title to inventions is expected to provide motivation for the university to license the technology to companies for commercialization in expectation of royalty payments.

The Bayh-Dole Act has been seen as particularly successful in meeting its objectives. However, while the legislation provides a general framework to promote expanded utilization of the results of federally funded research and development, questions have been raised as to the adequacy of current arrangements. Most agree that closer cooperation among industry, government, and academia can augment funding sources (both in the private and public sectors), increase technology transfer, stimulate more innovation (beyond invention), lead to new products and processes, and expand markets. However, others point out that collaboration may provide increased opportunities for conflicts of interest, redirection of research, less openness in sharing of scientific discovery, and a greater emphasis on applied rather than basic research. Additional concerns have been expressed, particularly in relation to the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, that the government and the public are not receiving benefits commensurate with the federal contribution to the initial research and development.

Actual experience and cited studies suggest that companies which do not control the results of their investments—either through ownership of patent title, exclusive license, or pricing decisions—tend to be less likely to engage in related R&D. The importance of control over intellectual property is reinforced by the positive effect P.L. 96-517 has had on the emergence of new technologies and techniques generated by U.S. companies.



Date of Report: December 3, 2012
Number of Pages: 28
Order Number: RL30786
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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Lifeline Telephone Program: Frequently Asked Questions



Angele A. Gilroy
Specialist in Telecommunications Policy

Mark Gurevitz
Information Research Specialist


The concept that all Americans should have affordable access to the telecommunications network, commonly called the “universal service concept,” can trace its origins back to the 1934 Communications Act. The preservation and advancement of universal service has remained a basic tenet of federal communications policy, and in the mid-1980s the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) established the Lifeline program to provide support for low-income subscribers. The Lifeline program, which is administered under the Universal Service Fund (USF) Low Income Program, was established by the FCC in 1984 to assist eligible low-income subscribers to cover the recurring monthly service charges incurred for telephone usage. Although the program solely covers costs associated with the minutes of use, not the telephone, misinformation connecting the program to payment for a “free phone” has resulted in a significant number of constituent inquiries.


Date of Report: December 3, 2012
Number of Pages: 6
Order Number: R42846
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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Video Relay Service: Program Funding and Reform



Patricia Moloney Figliola
Specialist in Internet and Telecommunications Policy

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates a number of disability-related telecommunications services, including video relay service (VRS). VRS allows persons with hearing disabilities, using American Sign Language (ASL), to communicate with voice telephone users through video equipment, rather than through typed text. VRS has quickly become a very popular service, as it offers several features not available with the text-based telecommunications relay service (TRS).

In June 2010, the FCC began a comprehensive review of the rates, structure, and practices of the VRS program. The goal of the review is to reform the VRS program, which had long been burdened by waste, fraud, and abuse, and by compensation rates that had become inflated above actual cost. Most recently, in October 2012, the FCC asked for input on how it might improve the technology used by users and operators of the VRS program and update VRS rates.

Congressional interest in the VRS Program is two-fold: eliminating fraud and abuse in the program and maintaining the usefulness of the program for users. Controversy has arisen over the latest proposals for change to the program being considered by the FCC. The FCC believes that rate structure changes are needed to reduce fraud and better manage the VRS program, but the deaf and hard-of-hearing community is concerned that funding cuts will result in fewer and lessqualified ASL interpreters. Additionally, the FCC has proposed changing the technologies used to operate and use the system, but the community is concerned that changes in technology will decrease the quality of the system as it is now and also potentially pose challenges to some users.



Date of Report: December 4, 2012
Number of Pages: 9
Order Number: R42830
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