Government Relations Update: Shutdown News; 116th Congress; Evers Administration

The following is a special update on government relations issues of interest to UW-Madison in Wisconsin and Washington, D.C.

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Federal Relations Update
Mike Lenn, Director of Federal Relations –

Shutdown Update

The partial federal government shutdown is now in its 21st day. The funding impasse endures as President Trump continues to insist on receiving funding for a wall on the southern border and congressional Democrats refuse to provide it. Congressional leaders from both parties are meeting with White House officials regularly, but they do not appear close to a compromise that will end the partial shutdown.

The 116th Congress began last week, and as one of its first orders of business, the new House Democratic majority passed a legislative package that includes funding for six of the seven outstanding appropriations bills through September. The House also passed a continuing resolution to extend Department of Homeland Security funding at fiscal year (FY) 2018 levels until February 8. However, the Senate does not intend to take up either bill. This week, the House began passing the bills individually, but there is no indication that the Senate will consider this piecemeal approach.

President Trump addressed the nation from the Oval Office on Tuesday night, making his case that there is a crisis on the southern border and a wall is necessary for border security. The administration is examining whether the president can declare a national emergency to build the wall. Such a step would sidestep Congress, and likely be challenged in the courts. While the president and congressional leaders continue to meet, most people do not seem optimistic their meetings will soon lead to a solution.

Additional information and guidance regarding the shutdown is available here. The Office of Federal Relations will continue to update this information as federal agencies release additional guidance.

What to Expect in the 116th Congress

It is a near certainty that both the House and Senate will want to consider a Higher Education Act reauthorization bill in the coming year. Both the House and Senate committees with jurisdiction over the HEA spent considerable time working on those issues last year, and committee leadership has again called reauthorization a top priority. Simplification of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and other student financial aid programs will be considered as part of a reauthorization, along with affordability and accessibility provisions. The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives will also conduct oversight of the Trump administration’s regulatory priorities. Look for hearings related to Title IX and gainful employment regulations in the coming months.

On the funding side, due to the current partial shutdown, the administration’s budget request to Congress is likely to be delayed. Instead of early February, the document will probably be weeks late. Under current law, the discretionary defense budget is slated to decrease from $647 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2019 to $576 billion in FY 2020, while non-defense authority falls from $597 billion to $542 billion. Congress has passed two-year budget deals three times in recent years to bust the budget caps imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act and is likely to do so for a fourth time in 2019.

We also expect to hear more chatter about the return of earmarks in 2019. Earmarks, or “pet projects” as they are commonly called by those who oppose them, are individual provisions inserted into spending bills to direct funding for specific projects in specific places, e.g., a bridge in a member of Congress’ district. Republicans have banned them since 2011, but many members in both political parties are calling for their return.

Congress is also likely to continue its focus on economic and national security threats from China, including the potential for academic espionage. Both parties remain concerned about the influence China might have on U.S. universities through Confucius Institutes, the Thousand Talents recruitment program and state-sponsored graduate students studying at U.S. universities. Expect to see more hearings on China and legislative proposals to limit their influence throughout the year.

Former UW Regent Bryan Steil Joins Congress

Bryan Steil, who served as a member of the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents for the past two years, was sworn into Congress to represent Wisconsin’s 1st congressional district. The 37-year-old Janesville native and UW Law School alum worked as an attorney for local plants manufacturing engines and packaging before running for Congress.

New Wisconsin in Washington Session Begins

The spring 2019 cohort of Wisconsin in Washington arrived in the nation’s capital earlier this month. Twenty-one students are interning this semester across Washington, D.C. on Capitol Hill, at federal agencies, think tanks, embassies and with public affairs and lobbying firms. In addition to their internships, students will take classes, participate in a mentorship program, and volunteer at local DC charities including the DC Central Kitchen.

The UW-Madison Office of Federal Relations – Campus’s voice in DC

The Office of Federal Relations works to advance UW-Madison’s interests in Washington, DC. Headed by Mike Lenn, Director of Federal Relations, and Carina Márquez-Oberhoffner, Associate Director of Federal Relations, the Office of Federal Relations advocates on federal research and higher education policies and issues that affect the university. This includes facilitating congressional and administration meetings for university leadership and faculty, coordinating issue briefings for members of congress and their staff, and serving as a liaison between campus and the federal government. The Office of Federal Relations also partners with Wisconsin-based organizations to host congressional events in DC including the upcoming UW Day on March 20, 2019 with the Wisconsin Alumni Association and the Madison Meets DC reception in June 2019 with the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce.

You can learn more about the Office of Federal Relation’s work by visiting our website or following us on Twitter.

State Relations Update
Crystal Potts, Director of State Relations:


Chancellor Blank had the opportunity to attend the Inauguration Ceremony for Governor Tony Evers and the rest of the constitutional officers at the State Capitol on Monday. Members of the State Legislature were also sworn in for the 2019-21 session. The State Assembly swore in 16 new members while four new members joined the State Senate.

Gubernatorial Appointments Update

Recently, Governor Evers announced more key appointments to lead a number of state agencies. Along with previously announced appointments, the appointments below require the confirmation of the State Senate.

  • Department of Veterans Affairs: Mary Kolar, who currently serves as the District I Supervisor for the Dane County Board of Supervisors.  Kolar worked for seven years as the Director of Public Operations at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Kolar spent twenty-eight years on active duty service in the U.S. Navy.
  • Department of Financial Institutions: Kathy Koltin, who currently serves as the executive vice president of special operations for Total Administrative Services Corporation. Prior to TASC, Blumenfeld worked at CUNA for 26 years. Koltin received her undergraduate degree from UW-Madison.
  • Department of Health Services: Andrea Palm, who most recently served as senior counselor to the Health and Human Services secretary under President Obama. She is Evers’ first cabinet pick who hails from outside Wisconsin.
  • Department of Children & Families: Emilie Amundson, who has been working as Evers’ chief of staff at the Department of Public Instruction. Amundson received her undergraduate degree from UW-Madison and is currently pursuing a PhD. in Curriculum and Instruction from UW-Madison.
  • Department of Safety & Professional Services: Dawn Crim, who served as the assistant state superintendent for the Division of Student and School Success at DPI. Prior to joining DPI Crim served as the associate dean for external relations for the UW-Madison School of Education and is a former director for community relations in the Office of the Chancellor. Crim is currently pursuing a PhD in Educational Leadership and Administration from the UW-Madison School of Education.
  • Department of Revenue: Peter Barca, who currently serves as a state representative for Wisconsin’s 64th Assembly District, which includes parts of Kenosha County. Barca also served as Assembly Minority Leader. Barca is a former U.S. Congressman for Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District. Barca has a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from UW-Madison.
  • Department of Workforce Development: Caleb Frostman, who was elected to the State Senate in a special election last year. He is the former executive director for the Door County Economic Development Corporation. Frostman is a graduate of the Wisconsin School of Business at UW-Madison.

Executive Orders

Governor Evers issued the first four executive orders of his administration:

Announcement of Standing Committee Membership

Senate and Assembly Republicans have a majority in both houses of the legislature and have the authority to guide committee creation and assignment.  For the full list of committees and legislator membership, please click here for senate and here for assembly.  

The UW-Madison Office of State Relations

The Office of State Relations works to advance UW-Madison’s interests with the state legislature, governor and other state agencies. Led by Director of State Relations Crystal Potts, the office advocates on behalf of UW-Madison, building relationships while developing and implementing strategies to advance campus priorities. We are currently working on building support for the 2019-21 operating and capital budget requests, as well as other policy items such as increasing campus flexibilities and advancing individual school/college/or unit requests. Over the next several months, State Relations will also coordinate statewide outreach activities, including setting up events and meetings between Chancellor Blank and business leaders, legislators and other stakeholders across Wisconsin.

You can learn more about the Office of State Relations work by visiting our website or following us on Twitter.