As we enter the new year, there are certainly many issues of interest to the Duke community that the federal government has on its to-do list. In the last several months of 2021, Congress and the Biden administration juggled several major pieces of legislation, from infrastructure to the debt ceiling. Below is a roundup of the recent highlights from Washington and a preview of the coming months that are most relevant to the Duke community:

FY22 Budget & Appropriations

In December, Congress narrowly avoided a potential government shutdown by passing another stopgap to extend the deadline for passing the FY22 appropriations bills until February 18. Lawmakers are spending the next several weeks continuing negotiations in hopes of reaching a final agreement by the new deadline. The release of the FY23 President’s Budget Request is also expected to be delayed until March. Below is a table illustrating the current status of Duke’s FY 22 appropriations priorities.

Status of Duke University Funding Priorities in the Federal Budget Process

In the last few weeks of 2021 Congress successfully passed the Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act and a $2.5 trillion increase to the national debt ceiling to avoid default before 2023. As Congress returns from recess, its focus will be directed back towards the Build Back Better Act (BBB).  The Association of American Universities (AAU), shared an analysis of the bill that passed the House, which is is expected to change dramatically if it successfully passes through the Senate. Duke’s priorities for the package include federal research funding, doubling the maximum Pell Grant, providing a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients and various tax provisions (see below for specifics). 

Research and Innovation

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) created two new divisions for climate & environment and energy last fall. These divisions are both aimed at using science-based approaches to address the climate crisis, reducing emissions and more.

In November, the ASTRO2020 Decadal Survey was released outlining the scientific goals over the next 10 years for astronomy and astrophysics.

Authorization Bills

National Defense Authorization Act

President Biden signed the $780 billion FY22 NDAA into law on December 27. The massive package includes several provisions relevant to higher education and research communities including a boost to cyber capabilities as well as almost a 25 percent increase to R&D funding defense wide. Additionally, the bill incorporates recommendations from the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence and will designate funding to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

Competitiveness Legislation

After a flurry of activity during the summer, progress on various innovation and competitiveness measures stalled for most of the fall. In November, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) agreed to take the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (USICA)  to conference. The House is now expected to pass a broader omnibus measure that would contain its stand-alone bills, including the NSF for the Future Act and DOE for the Future Act, to create a more cohesive conference between the upper and lower chambers.

Foreign Influence and Research Security

The House Intelligence Committee passed its annual authorization bill which included a provision that would give the Department of Defense authority to establish a pilot program to vet individuals working on unclassified research projects who wouldn’t already be subject to Federal vetting procedures. This provision was attached to the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act, but was removed during final conference negotiations. The Senate Intelligence Authorization Act does not include a similar proposal.

DARPA announced its Countering Foreign Influence Program has created a new risk assessment rubric for all proposed Senior/Key Personnel selected for negotiations of fundamental research grants or cooperative agreements. This assessment would run separate from and after the scientific review process and adjudicated prior final award.

NSF announced it is creating a new system of records – NSF-77 Data Analytics Application Suite. This system will allow NSF to compare and analyze information reported by grantees and enable it to “uphold the scientific community’s core values of openness, transparency, honesty, equity, fair competition, and objectivity.” Among other things, it will be used enforce NSF’s disclosure requirements and help implement National Security Presidential Memorandum-33 guidance.

Previously expected last fall, OSTP recently released guidance for federal agencies regarding the implementation of National Security Presidential Memorandum-33 (NSPM-33). The new guidance includes several important provisions, including establishing standardized disclosure requirements; enabling researchers to use standardized reporting tools; creating guidelines for determining consequences for violations; information sharing between federal agencies; and ensuring that agencies implement NSPM-33 “in a nondiscriminatory manner.” The guidance also provides a definition of “foreign government-sponsored talent recruitment programs.”

Higher Education & Student Aid

Duke and the higher education community advocated for doubling the maximum Pell grant this year.  The #DoublePell campaign was established to encourage bipartisan support among members of Congress to increase funding. There are proposed raises for the Pell grant in both the Build Back Better (BBB) Act and FY22 funding legislation, that fall short of the doubing goal. 

As has been reported by numerous media outlets, in April,  the Biden administration plans to unveil major education civil rights proposals that aim to reverse many of the previous administration’s rules on sexual misconduct and create new protections for transgender students.

Immigration

On November 29, Duke sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Division of Humanitarian Services Office of Policy and Strategy Acting Chief Andria Strano Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The letter emphasized, “We hope that any changes that emerge through this rulemaking will focus on the enormous benefits of allowing full participation in society and higher education by current DACA students or employees, individuals who can now apply for DACA to enroll in or work for Duke, and by other similarly situated undocumented persons.”

Earlier this summer, many students and faculty from U.S. institutions found themselves displaced during the crisis in Afghanistan. In response, the higher education community advocated for increased visa flexibility for displaced scholars and DHS announced it would exempt filing fees and streamline application processing for Afghan refugees brought to the United States.

Additionally, the State Department published a proposed rule to raise application fees for several nonimmigrant visa categories, including F, M, and J. Duke continues to work with the higher education associations on a response to these fee increases.

Tax

The BBB contains several higher education tax provisions of interest to higher education and Duke. The proposed bill remedies the tax treatment of Pell Grants, increases incentives for charitable giving, and addresses university concerns with the tax on schools’ investment income.

Biden Administration

Throughout the past several months, more individuals have been confirmed by Congress to take up their appointed positions in the Biden administration. The Office of Government Relations has an up-to-date tracker that highlights positions of most relevance to Duke, which you can access here.

Updates From Duke in DC/OGR

In Fall 2021, we saw a strong return to in-person events and campus visits, as well as a new introduction to hybrid events. On campus, Duke welcomed visits by the Chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff, General Mark Milley, the director of the Army Research Office, and innovation leaders from the  18th Airborne during the final months of 2021.

Throughout the fall, Duke in DC also hosted several virtual briefings for various DC-based policy audiences on topics including FinTech, cybersecurity and cryptocurrency; AI & criminal justice; the U.S. national security apparatus; and technology innovation and the financial system.

In December, Duke Sanford School of Public Policy Fellow and Duke alum, Justin Sherman T’20, gave expert testimony at a Senate Committee on Finance Subcommittee on Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Growth hearing on “Promoting Competition, Growth, and Privacy Protection in the Technology Sector.”

In our North Carolina delegation, both Representatives David Price (D-NC) and G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) announced their retirements in the fall which, in addition to Senator Burr’s previously announced retirement and the addition of a new congressional district, will lead to big changes in the upcoming 118th Congress. Both Rep. Price and Butterfield have represented Duke University in the past. Our office is also paying attention to new congressional maps and midterm elections in the year ahead.