[Federal Register Volume 80, Number 180 (Thursday, September 17, 2015)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 55763-55766]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2015-23280]


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DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS

38 CFR Part 36

RIN 2900-AO70


Loan Guaranty--Specially Adapted Housing Assistive Technology 
Grant Program

AGENCY: Department of Veterans Affairs.

ACTION: Final rule.

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SUMMARY: This rule adopts as final, without change, a proposed rule of 
the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to amend its regulations to 
provide grants for the development of new assistive technologies for 
use in specially adapted housing for eligible veterans or 
servicemembers. The Veterans' Benefits Act of 2010 authorizes VA to 
provide grants of up to $200,000 per fiscal year to persons or entities 
to encourage the development of specially adapted housing assistive 
technologies. This final rule implements changes to VA regulations to 
clarify the process, the criteria, and the priorities relating to the 
award of these research and development grants.

DATES: Effective Date: This rule is effective October 19, 2015.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: John Bell III, Assistant Director for 
Loan Policy and Valuation (262), Veterans Benefits Administration, 
Department of Veterans Affairs, 810 Vermont Avenue NW., Washington, DC 
20420, (202) 632-8786. (This is not a toll-free number.)

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

The September 8, 2014 Proposed Rule

    On September 8, 2014, VA published a proposed rule in the Federal 
Register at 79 FR 53146, implementing VA's statutory authority to 
provide grants for the development of new assistive technologies for 
use in specially adapted housing for eligible veterans or 
servicemembers. Section 203 of the Veterans' Benefits Act of 2010 (the 
Act) amended chapter 21, title 38, United States Code, to establish the 
Specially Adapted Housing Assistive Technology Grant Program. Veterans' 
Benefits Act of 2010, Public Law 111-275, section 203, 124 Stat. 2874 
(2010). The Act authorizes VA to provide grants of up to $200,000 per 
fiscal year, through September 30, 2016, to a ``person or entity'' for 
the development of specially adapted housing assistive technologies and 
limits to $1 million the aggregate amount of such grants VA may award 
in any fiscal year. Id.
    The public comment period for the proposed rule closed on November 
7,

[[Page 55764]]

2014. VA received one comment. The comment received on the proposed 
rule is discussed below. VA adopts without substantive change the 
proposed rule that implements the grant program to encourage the 
development of specially adapted housing assistive technologies. As 
explained below, however, VA is making one administrative correction to 
the proposed delegation of authority.
    VA received one public comment on the proposed rule from an 
individual. The commenter expressed support for the proposed rule, but 
believed the application scoring criteria should be revised. The 
commenter explained that the prioritization of the criteria outlined in 
the proposed rule should be changed to reflect ``those characteristics 
that make the project most likely to produce a successful and impactful 
result.'' The commenter recommended changing the maximum point values 
that may be awarded for certain scoring criteria, with a feasible 
implementation plan being eligible for the highest number of maximum 
possible points and innovation and minority or economic status being 
eligible for the lowest number of maximum possible points. 
Additionally, the commenter proposed that ``empirical research'' should 
be added as a distinct scoring criterion utilized in the review 
process.
    VA is publishing the scoring criteria set forth in proposed 38 CFR 
36.4412(f) without change because VA believes that the criteria as 
proposed effectively carry out Congress's intent for the Grant program 
and satisfy the commenter's interest in successful and impactful 
results. Specifically, in regard to the legislative history of the Act, 
the preamble to the proposed rule explained that ``House Report 111-109 
also explained that there are many emerging technologies that could 
improve home adaptions or otherwise enhance a veteran or 
servicemember's ability to live independently, such as voice-
recognition and voice-command operations, living environment controls, 
and adaptive feeding equipment.'' 79 FR 53147. In its scoring criteria, 
VA provided that a new advancement's innovation and ability to meet an 
unmet need may be awarded the maximum possible points because it 
understood a central goal of the law to be the development of original, 
potentially groundbreaking technologies. VA also prioritized a new 
advancement's promotion of independent living in the scoring criteria 
based on Congress's statement that emerging technologies (as supported 
through this Grant program) could enhance the ability for veterans or 
servicemembers to live independently. See 79 FR 53148. Additionally, to 
ensure that these advancements may be feasibly developed and 
effectively utilized by eligible individuals, VA's proposed scoring 
criteria also include a description of the new assistive technology's 
concept, size, and scope and an implementation plan for bringing the 
technology to the marketplace. See id. Accordingly, VA is maintaining 
its scoring criteria as set forth in the proposed rule because this 
prioritization effectively carries out congressional intent while 
addressing the commenter's stated interest in successful and impactful 
results.
    Additionally, VA is publishing the scoring criteria set forth in 
proposed 38 CFR 36.4412(f) without change because the criteria provide 
VA flexibility to ensure that grant awards are made based on the 
identified priorities and/or needs of veterans and VA at the time the 
Notice of Funds Availability (NoFA) is published. See 79 FR 53147, 
53148. Specifically, in setting out the scoring criteria and maximum 
points that may be awarded for each criterion, VA explained that ``the 
scoring framework would allow the Secretary to make awards based on 
priorities of veterans and VA, while also ensuring that taxpayer funds 
are used responsibly.'' 79 FR 53148. As explained in the preamble to 
the proposed rule, while the regulation text sets forth the maximum 
number of points that may be awarded based on any one criterion, each 
NoFA would explain the specific scoring priorities for that grant 
application cycle. Id. This change in priorities would not introduce 
new scoring criteria, but would instead help technology grant 
applicants understand how the scores will be weighted and provide them 
an opportunity to tailor their responses accordingly. Id.
    The preamble to the proposed rule also provides an example to 
illustrate VA's flexibility to emphasize certain criterion in each 
NoFA. It explains that VA might emphasize in one grant cycle the need 
for innovation, and as a result, explain in the NoFA that innovation 
will be a top priority. A technology grant applicant would then know to 
concentrate on how innovative its product would be. In reviewing the 
application, the Secretary might award all 50 allowable points to the 
technology grant applicant who best satisfies that criterion. In the 
next grant cycle, the Secretary might determine that a particular need 
has gone unmet among eligible individuals who are adapting their homes. 
The Secretary might choose to place more emphasis on meeting that need 
than on general innovation. As a result, the published NoFA for that 
grant cycle would explain the Secretary's new priorities. A technology 
grant applicant would then know that its application would have more 
success if it were to focus on how the product would meet the need. 
When reviewing applications, the Secretary could choose to award all 50 
points for that criterion, while only scoring the most innovative 
product 30 points. Id. Accordingly, VA believes this flexibility to 
weigh criteria based on the identified needs and priorities of veterans 
and VA at the time a NoFA is published will ensure grant awards 
successfully carry out program goals and positively impact eligible 
individuals.
    Finally, the commenter suggested adding ``empirical research'' as a 
criterion to be evaluated when scoring grant applications. VA 
understands empirical research to be defined as ``originating in or 
based on observation or experience'' (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/empirical). VA's scoring criteria anticipate VA's 
consideration of empirical research in evaluating applications and 
determining points awarded for each criterion. For example, an 
application for a new assistive technology may utilize empirical 
research surrounding currently-available technologies on the market to 
demonstrate the advancement's level of innovation. Or, a successful 
description of how the new advancement is specifically designed to 
promote the ability of eligible individuals to live independently may 
utilize empirical research to explain, for example, the most common 
disabilities among eligible individuals, the critical factors that 
affect an eligible individual's ability to live independently, and how 
the new assistive technology may enable individuals to overcome 
barriers to independent living. VA will consider the presence of 
empirical research in its review of applications and determination of 
points to be awarded. As empirical research may be utilized to support 
applications and impact application scoring under the existing 
criteria, it does not need to be added as a stand-alone factor for 
evaluation.

Administrative Correction

    The proposed rule included a delegation of authority to various 
officials in the Department. The title of the Deputy Under Secretary 
for Economic Opportunity was incorrectly listed as the Deputy Under 
Secretary for Economic Development. This rule corrects the error. The 
change is only for administrative accuracy and has no substantive 
effect on the rule.

[[Page 55765]]

Executive Orders 12866 and 13563

    Executive Orders 12866 and 13563 direct agencies to assess the 
costs and benefits of available regulatory alternatives and, when 
regulation is necessary, to select regulatory approaches that maximize 
net benefits (including potential economic, environmental, public 
health and safety effects, and other advantages; distributive impacts; 
and equity). Executive Order 13563 (Improving Regulation and Regulatory 
Review) emphasizes the importance of quantifying both costs and 
benefits, reducing costs, harmonizing rules, and promoting flexibility. 
Executive Order 12866 (Regulatory Planning and Review) defines a 
``significant regulatory action'' requiring review by the Office of 
Management and Budget (OMB), unless OMB waives such review, as any 
regulatory action that is likely to result in a rule that may: (1) Have 
an annual effect on the economy of $100 million or more or adversely 
affect in a material way the economy, a sector of the economy, 
productivity, competition, jobs, the environment, public health or 
safety, or State, local, or tribal governments or communities; (2) 
Create a serious inconsistency or otherwise interfere with an action 
taken or planned by another agency; (3) Materially alter the budgetary 
impact of entitlements, grants, user fees, or loan programs or the 
rights and obligations of recipients thereof; or (4) Raise novel legal 
or policy issues arising out of legal mandates, the President's 
priorities, or the principles set forth in this Executive Order.
    The economic, interagency, budgetary, legal, and policy 
implications of this regulatory action have been examined, and it has 
been determined to be a significant regulatory action under Executive 
Order 12866 because it is likely to result in a rule that may raise 
novel legal or policy issues arising out of legal mandates, the 
President's priorities, or the principles set forth in Executive Orders 
12866 or 13563. VA's impact analysis can be found as a supporting 
document at http://www.regulations.gov, usually within 48 hours after 
the rulemaking document is published. Additionally, a copy of the 
rulemaking and its impact analysis are available on VA's Web site at 
http://www.va.gov/orpm/, by following the link for ``VA Regulations 
Published from FY 2004 Through Fiscal Year to Date.''

Regulatory Flexibility Act

    The Secretary hereby certifies that this final rule will not have a 
significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities 
as they are defined in the Regulatory Flexibility Act, 5 U.S.C. 601-
612. There will be no significant economic impact on any small entities 
because grant applicants are not required to provide matching funds to 
receive the maximum grant amount of $200,000. The assistive technology 
grant program will not impact a substantial number of small entities 
because VA may only award a maximum of $1 million in aggregate grant 
funds per fiscal year, and VA's authority to award these grants expires 
September 30, 2016. On this basis, the Secretary certifies that the 
final rule will not have a significant economic impact on a substantial 
number of small entities as they are defined in the Regulatory 
Flexibility Act, 5 U.S.C. 601-612. Therefore, under 5 U.S.C. 605(b), 
this rulemaking is exempt from the initial and final regulatory 
flexibility analysis requirements of sections 603 and 604.

Unfunded Mandates

    The Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995 requires, at 2 U.S.C. 
1532, that agencies prepare an assessment of anticipated costs and 
benefits before issuing any rule that may result in the expenditure by 
State, local, and tribal governments, in the aggregate, or by the 
private sector, of $100 million or more (adjusted annually for 
inflation) in any one year. This final rule will have no such effect on 
State, local, and tribal governments, or on the private sector.

Paperwork Reduction Act

    The Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (44 U.S.C. 3507(d)) requires 
that VA consider the impact of paperwork and other information 
collection burdens imposed on the public. Under 44 U.S.C. 3507(a), an 
agency may not collect or sponsor the collection of information, nor 
may it impose an information collection requirement unless it displays 
a currently valid OMB control number. 5 CFR 1320.8(b)(1) and (3)(vi).
    This final rule will impose the following new information 
collection requirements. Section 36.4412(d) of title 38 CFR will 
require applicants for an SAH Assistive Technology grant to submit VA 
Form 26-0967, ``Certification Regarding Debarment, Suspension, 
Ineligibility and Voluntary Exclusion,'' and to provide statements 
addressing the scoring criteria for grant awards. The information 
provided under this collection of information is necessary for a 
complete SAH Assistive Technology grant application. The information 
will be used by VA in deciding whether an applicant meets the 
requirements and satisfies the scoring criteria for award of an SAH 
Assistive Technology grant under 38 U.S.C. 2108. As required by the 
Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (at 44 U.S.C. 3507(d)), VA has 
submitted these information collections to OMB for its review. OMB 
approved these new information collection requirements associated with 
the final rule and assigned OMB control number 2900-0821.

Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance

    The Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance program numbers and 
titles for the programs affected by this document are 64.106, Specially 
Adapted Housing for Disabled Veterans and 64.118, Veterans Housing--
Direct Loans for Certain Disabled Veterans.

Signing Authority

    The Secretary of Veterans Affairs, or designee, approved this 
document and authorized the undersigned to sign and submit the document 
to the Office of the Federal Register for publication electronically as 
an official document of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Robert L. 
Nabors II, Chief of Staff, Department of Veterans Affairs, approved 
this document on September 11, 2015, for publication.

List of Subjects in 38 CFR Part 36

    Condominiums, Housing, Indians, Individuals with disabilities, Loan 
programs--housing and community development, Loan programs--Indians, 
Loan programs--veterans, Manufactured homes, Mortgage insurance, 
Reporting and recordkeeping requirements, Veterans.

    Dated: September 11, 2015.
Michael P. Shores,
Chief Impact Analyst, Office of Regulation Policy & Management, Office 
of the General Counsel, Department of Veterans Affairs.

    For the reasons set out in the preamble, VA amends 38 CFR part 36, 
subpart C to read as follows:

PART 36--LOAN GUARANTY

0
1. The authority citation for part 36 continues to read as follows:


    Authority:  38 U.S.C. 501 and as otherwise noted.

0
2. Add Sec.  36.4412 to read as follows:


Sec.  36.4412  Specially Adapted Housing Assistive Technology Grant 
Program.

    (a) General. (1) The Secretary will make grants for the development 
of new assistive technologies for specially adapted housing.
    (2) A person or entity may apply for, and receive, a grant pursuant 
to this section.

[[Page 55766]]

    (3)(i) All technology grant recipients, including individuals and 
entities formed as for-profit entities, will be subject to the rules on 
Uniform Administrative Requirements for Grants and Agreements With 
Institutions of Higher Education, Hospitals, and Other Non-Profit 
Organizations, as found at 2 CFR part 200.
    (ii) Where the Secretary determines that 2 CFR part 200 is not 
applicable or where the Secretary determines that additional 
requirements are necessary due to the uniqueness of a situation, the 
Secretary will apply the same standard applicable to exceptions under 2 
CFR 200.102.
    (b) Definitions. To supplement the definitions contained in Sec.  
36.4401, the following terms are herein defined for purposes of this 
section:
    (1) A technology grant applicant is a person or entity that applies 
for a grant pursuant to 38 U.S.C. 2108 and this section to develop new 
assistive technology or technologies for specially adapted housing.
    (2) A new assistive technology is an advancement that the Secretary 
determines could aid or enhance the ability of an eligible individual, 
as defined in 38 CFR 36.4401, to live in an adapted home.
    (c) Grant application solicitation. As funds are available for the 
program, VA will publish in the Federal Register a Notice of Funds 
Availability (NoFA), soliciting applications for the grant program and 
providing information on applications.
    (d) Application process and requirements. Upon publication of the 
NoFA, a technology grant applicant must submit an application to the 
Secretary via www.Grants.gov. Applications must consist of the 
following:
    (1) Standard Form 424 (Application for Federal Assistance) with the 
box labeled ``application'' marked;
    (2) VA Form 26-0967 (Certification Regarding Debarment, Suspension, 
Ineligibility and Voluntary Exclusion) to ensure that the technology 
grant applicant has not been debarred or suspended and is eligible to 
participate in the VA grant process and receive Federal funds;
    (3) Statements addressing the scoring criteria in paragraph (f) of 
this section; and
    (4) Any additional information as deemed appropriate by VA.
    (e) Threshold requirements. The NoFA will set out the full and 
specific procedural requirements for technology grant applicants.
    (f) Scoring criteria. (1) The Secretary will score technology grant 
applications based on the scoring criteria in paragraph (f)(2) of this 
section. Although there is not a cap on the maximum aggregate score 
possible, a technology grant application must receive a minimum 
aggregate score of 70 points to be considered for a technology grant.
    (2) The scoring criteria and maximum points are as follows:
    (i) A description of how the new assistive technology is innovative 
(up to 50 points);
    (ii) An explanation of how the new assistive technology will meet a 
specific, unmet need among eligible individuals (up to 50 points);
    (iii) An explanation of how the new assistive technology is 
specifically designed to promote the ability of eligible individuals to 
live more independently (up to 30 points);
    (iv) A description of the new assistive technology's concept, size, 
and scope (up to 30 points);
    (v) An implementation plan with major milestones for bringing the 
new assistive technology into production and to the market. Such 
milestones must be meaningful and achievable within a specific 
timeframe (up to 30 points); and
    (vi) An explanation of what uniquely positions the technology grant 
applicant in the marketplace. This can include a focus on 
characteristics such as the economic reliability of the technology 
grant applicant, the technology grant applicant's status as a minority 
or veteran-owned business, or other characteristics that the technology 
grant applicant wants to include to show how it will help protect the 
interests of, or further the mission of, VA and the program (up to 20 
points).
    (g) Application deadlines. Deadlines for technology grant 
applications will be established in the NoFA.
    (h) Awards process. Decisions for awarding technology grants under 
this section will be made in accordance with guidelines (covering such 
issues as timing and method of notification) described in the NoFA. The 
Secretary will provide written approvals, denials, or requests for 
additional information. The Secretary will conduct periodic audits of 
all approved grants under this program to ensure that the actual 
project size and scope are consistent with those outlined in the 
proposal and that established milestones are achieved.
    (i) Delegation of authority. (1) Each VA employee appointed to or 
lawfully fulfilling any of the following positions is hereby delegated 
authority, within the limitations and conditions prescribed by law, to 
exercise the powers and functions of the Secretary with respect to the 
grant program authorized by 38 U.S.C. 2108:
    (i) Under Secretary for Benefits.
    (ii) Deputy Under Secretary for Economic Opportunity.
    (iii) Director, Loan Guaranty Service.
    (iv) Deputy Director, Loan Guaranty Service.
    (2) [Reserved]
    (j) Miscellaneous. (1) The grant offered by this chapter is not a 
veterans' benefit. As such, the decisions of the Secretary are final 
and not subject to the same appeal rights as decisions related to 
veterans' benefits.
    (2) The Secretary does not have a duty to assist technology grant 
applicants in obtaining a grant.


(Authority: 38 U.S.C. 2108)

(The Office of Management and Budget has approved the information 
collection requirements in this section under control numbers 4040-
0004 and 2900-0821.)

[FR Doc. 2015-23280 Filed 9-16-15; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 8320-01-P