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The United States capitol.

U in Washington

U's federal relations staff works to maintain support

By Channing Riggs, Ann Freeman, and Gayla Marty

From Brief, September 22, 2004

As the September light wanes over Washington, D.C., the 108th Congress prepares to adjourn and go home for the last hot weeks of election campaigns.

There's a lot to do in the remaining days before the federal fiscal year ends. A budget has not been approved, so it now appears likely that everything will be tossed into an omnibus appropriation bill to pass at the proverbial eleventh hour.

Between the elections Nov. 2 and the beginning of the next session--what lobbyists sometimes called the "silly season"--Congress could reconvene and anything could happen.

But when the 109th Congress convenes in January--with the same or a new administration--key issues will remain: reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA), legislation that would impact international students and enrollments, and debates about stem cell research.

"Gold Book" captures federal issues and priorities for the University

The U's federal relations staff developed The Gold Book, a new resource for Minnesota's congressional delegation about federal priorities and initiatives that support the University's teaching, research, and public service missions. One-page summaries outline the myriad federal issues impacting colleges and departments across the U. The Gold Book will be updated annually. For more information about this new resource, contact U federal relations director John Engelen at

The road for federal relations staff at U.S. universities will not be easy. As state contributions have decreased, more and more educators and administrators in higher education are looking to Washington for support.

What's at stake

Meanwhile, in Minnesota, federal dollars are at work on University campuses. From solving significant problems in vocational and technical education (James Stone, family education) to conducting international clinical trials on AIDS (James Neaton, biostatistics) to studying neutrinos to advance basic understanding of particle physics (Roland Poling, physics), a lot of U research depends on federal dollars. In 2003, U researchers competed for and won more than $339 million in federal funds through agencies including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the National Science Foundation (NSF)--roughly 16 percent of the University's annual budget.

Apart from research dollars, the University and its students depend heavily on the Higher Education Act (HEA). The HEA is the primary law that regulates financial aid, campus crime and safety, access to postsecondary education, teacher training, graduate education, direct and guaranteed student loans programs, and international studies. Normally renewed every five years, the HEA was last passed in 1998 and is now well overdue.

Bringing U expertise to Washington

The University of Minnesota's federal relations team works year-round to advance the interests of all its campuses--Twin Cities, Crookston, Duluth, Morris, and Rochester--in Washington.

One of its goals is to raise the University's profile nationally, finding opportunities for faculty members to participate in congressional hearings, executive branch advisory groups and task forces, and national education forums. Week in and week out, U faculty help to educate members of Congress and their staffs about how federal dollars are making a difference in teaching, research, and outreach.

This month, a group of leaders from the U of M Extension Service visited with every member of the Minnesota delegation to talk about how federal dollars are being used in each of their districts. In Rep. Betty McCollum's office, for example, the group talked about the U's immigrant farming program, which teaches participants about crops but also about pricing, marketing, and other business issues. They also described an economic literacy program in McCollum's district that is teaching high school students about credit card debt.

In October, leaders from the College of Veterinary Medicine will be in Washington to meet with representatives in federal agencies as well as Congress to talk about work related to a major grant received to ensure national food security.

Fighting for dollars

In the year ahead, work of the University's federal relations team will continue on much the same track as in the past year:

Federal relations team

John Engelen, director
Channing Riggs, assistant director

The U's federal relations staff is part of the Office of Government Relations, headed by associate vice president Donna Peterson, within University Relations.

The federal relations staff works with the major higher education policy groups to shape policy and advocate legislation--the Association of American Universities (AAU), National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges (NASULGC), Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), Science Coalition, and others.

Over the past two years, the University of Minnesota has been a leader in work among higher education institutions to reauthorize the HEA. That leadership role will continue.

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