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The Need for Transparency and Interpretability at the Intersection of AI and Criminal Justice

“No human can calculate patterns from large databases in their head. If we want humans to make data-driven decisions, machine learning can help with that,” Cynthia Rudin explained regarding the opportunities that artificial intelligence (AI) presents for a wide range of issues, including criminal justice.

On November 15th, Rudin, Duke professor of computer science and recipient of the 2021 Squirrel AI Award for Artificial Intelligence for the Benefit of Humanity. joined her colleague Brandon Garrett, the L. Neil Williams, Jr. Professor of Law and director of the Wilson Center for Science and Justice, for “The Equitable, the Ethical and the Technical: Artificial Intelligence’s Role in The U.S. Criminal Justice System.” The panel was moderated by Nita Farahany, the Robinson O. Everett Professor of Law and founding director of Duke Science & Society. At the event, there was representation from numerous House and Senate congressional offices as well as the Departments of Transportation and Justice, National Institutes of Health (NIH), American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the Duke community.

Rudin started off the conversation by providing listeners with a simple definition, “AI is when machines perform tasks that are typically something that a human would perform.” She also described machine learning as a type of “pattern-mining, where an algorithm is looking for patterns in data that can be useful.” For instance, an algorithm can analyze an individual’s criminal history to identify patterns and could be used to help predict whether that person is more likely to commit a crime in the future.

Garrett added that AI applications pose a potential solution for human error – we can be biased, too lenient, too harsh, or “just inconsistent” – and these flaws can be exacerbated by time constraints and other factors. When it comes to AI in the criminal justice system, an important question to consider is whether AI has the potential to provide “better information to inform better outcomes” and better approaches to the criminal system, especially considering the presence of racial disparities.    

However, applying AI tools to the criminal justice system should not be taken lightly. “There are a lot of issues that we need to take into account as we are designing AI tools for criminal justice,” said Farahany, “including issues like fairness and privacy, particularly with biometric data since you can’t change your biometrics, or transparency, which is related to due process.”

What does it mean for an algorithm to be fair? Rudin estimated that about “half the theoretical computer scientists in the world are working to define algorithmic fairness.” So, researchers like her are looking at different fairness definitions and trying to determine whether the risk prediction models being used in the justice system satisfy those definitions of fairness.

When it comes to facial recognition systems there is “generally a tradeoff between privacy, fairness and accuracy,” Rudin stated. When software searches the general public’s pictures, it invades individual privacy, however, because the model collects pictures of everyone, it’s extremely accurate and unbiased.  Similarly, Garrett noted that the federal government is a heavy user of facial recognition technologies and there is no law that regulates it, pointing to the federal FACE database. “One would hope that the federal government would be a leader in thinking carefully about those issues and that hasn’t always been true,” however, he also praised the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and Army Research Lab for their work in the space.

Throughout the conversation, the speakers emphasized the importance of transparency and interpretability, as opposed to “black box AI” models. 

“A black box predictive model,” said Rudin, “is a formula that is too complicated for any human to understand or it’s proprietary, which means nobody is allowed to understand its inner workings.” Likening the concept to a “secret sauce” formula, Rudin explained that many people believe that, due to its secretive nature, black box AI must be extremely accurate. However, she pointed out the model’s limitations and occasional inaccuracies, whereas interpretable and “understandable to humans” models can perform just as well.

“Interpretation also matters, because we want people like judges to know what they are doing,” explained Garrett, “and if they don’t know what something means, then they may be a lot less likely to rely on it.”

In the discussion, Garrett also gave his thoughts about legislation currently being considered in Congress. He mentioned the recently introduced Justice in Forensic Algorithms Act, which seeks to allocate additional resources to NIST. Regarding the legal landscape of AI and criminal justice, he recommended that the federal government provide “resources for NIST to be doing vetting and auditing of these technologies, and they should not be black box, they should be interpretable and all of that information should be accessible to all of the sides – the judge, prosecution and defense – so that they can understand the results that these technologies are spitting out and so they can be explained to jurors and other fact finders.”

Posted 11/22/2021

How the Veteran Transitions Research Initiative Helps Inform Veteran Transition Success

Upon exiting the military, veterans encounter unique challenges when transitioning to the civilian workforce. Housed at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, the Veteran Transitions Research Initiative (VTRI) conducts research that can help inform initiatives focused on enhancing veterans’ transition to the workforce. The VTRI’s work has received national attention and participation from Microsoft, Amazon, the Call of Duty Endowment, LinkedIn and several U.S. universities.

Aaron C. Kay, the J Rex Fuqua Professor of International Management at the Duke Fuqua School of Business, Sean Kelley, Duke Fuqua School of Business Faculty in Residence and David Sherman, professor of social psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), co-lead the VRTI’s research efforts, centered around issues related to veteran hiring and bias. Stemming from his experience serving in the U.S. Navy, Kelley was motivated to break down barriers for his fellow veterans entering the civilian workforce.

In honor of Veterans Day and the important work the VTRI does for veterans, Kay answered five questions about his research on veteran hiring and bias:

What initially drove you to research veteran hiring and bias?

I’ve always studied issues related to discrimination, stereotyping and inequality from a social psychological lens. Much of my work has looked at those issues in the context of gender and also socio-economic status. Sean Kelley had taken an interest in my research on how wording choices in job advertisements can contribute to gender inequality in the applicant pool.

A few years later, he reached out to ask me what type of similar work there is on the psychological processes that affect how people treat military veterans in the workplace. Listening to Sean, it became clear to me this is a real social justice issue that needs attention. A post-doctoral student I was working with at the time, Steven Shepherd, and I started to research some of the ways people might unwittingly stereotype veterans. This research led to a publication showing that people view veterans as great fits for jobs that require a lot of doing but less adept for jobs that require feeling and relating to others. And we were off and running.

What is an example of a unique challenge that veterans face as they transition to civilian careers?

I tend to think of this more from the perspectives of the obstacles that veterans face that other, non-veterans, do not. The most glaring is stereotypes, or preconceptions people hold about military veterans. And, in particular, the beliefs they hold about veterans that, while maybe positive and seemingly complimentary, are nonetheless stereotypes. When an average hirer or manager learns an applicant or an employee is a veteran, what immediately comes to mind regarding their strengths? What do they assume (or presume) about that person’s motives, interests, and talents and, importantly, how do those presumptions affect the jobs they assign them to and where they get funneled? People tend to have a sense that negative beliefs are “stereotypes” and so they at least try to regulate them. But they often are unaware of the ways the positive or flattering preconceptions they hold about a group can also be restrictive which, ironically, can make them even more problematic. Much of our research is investigating what, specifically, these positive stereotypes look like and what effects they are having on employment outcomes.

What prompted you to start the Veterans Transitions Research Initiative and what are your plans for the future of the initiative?

There are many people doing wonderful important research on psychological and social issues related to veteran transitions. But the topic is not mainstream amongst researchers – like me – that generally investigate social justice, social inequality, discrimination and stereotyping. The point of the VTRI is to inspire more people to take up this issue in their research.

We – the VTRI, while located at Duke, is co-directed with David Sherman, a social psychologist at UCSB and Sean Kelley, an Executive in Residence at Fuqua – feel more minds are needed, and the VTRI seeks to encourage more social scientists, especially in psychology and organizational behavior, to integrate this population of military veterans and this issue more generally (veteran transitions) into their programs of research, and to test and develop their theories in this specific context. We are working hard on publishing highly visible work that makes this point and bringing people together – researchers with a wide range of experience working with veterans as well as industry partners – to learn from and inspire one another.

How can employers better support their veteran and military-affiliated employees?

One way to approach it is by looking towards other examples of programmatic research on transitions that have been successful at experimentally testing and implementing interventions on a wide scale, for example, through onboarding efforts with students from a wide range of backgrounds who are entering college. They have found that messages centered on how challenges – such as feeling as though one doesn’t belong at the institution – are common, experienced widely, but get better over time can help students succeed in the new environment, particularly when there are other aspects of the institution that are committed to the success of all students.

Are there ways the federal government can support your research or benefit from the findings of this research?

We have given a talk on our research at the Department of Defense’s Military-to-Civilian Transition Research Forum. This was a great experience as the forum brings together researchers from different disciplines – social psychology, industrial-organizational psychology, military psychology – as well as people from government and veteran-serving organizations. This forum would seem to be a great arena for the federal government to directly support and stimulate relevant research via funding grants.

By Saralyn Carcy, 11/10/21

Advancing Tech – Aligning Policy on Cyber, FinTech and Crypto

As technology progresses, new concerns continue to sprout up along with it. “Ransomware attacks have surged in 2020,” Curtis Dukes with the Center for Internet Security stated. Going on to elaborate, “cyber criminals are also expanding their target set and shifting their focus to privately owned critical infrastructure providers.”

On September 14, Duke in DC hosted a congressional briefing, From Technological Advancement to FinTech – How Congress Should Think About Cyber Policy, which addressed many new technological threats faced in the U.S. including ransomware, cryptocurrency and much more and what measures policymakers can take to prevent them.

Joining Curtis Dukes in the conversation was featured panelist Jimmie Lenz, director of the Master of Engineering in FinTech and the Master of Engineering in Cybersecurity at the Duke Pratt School of Engineering and moderator Kim Kotlar, adjunct assistant professor at the Pratt School of Engineering and Duke cyber mentor.

Ransomware attacks happen when cyber criminals use malicious software. Dukes stated “they are delivered as either an email attachment or as an embedded link – to infect the network and lock out the critical files until the ransom is paid.” He explained that ransomware attack patterns are also evolving, and every industry vertical could be a target.

Kotlar noted that we have seen an increase in cyber-attacks related to cryptocurrency to which Lenz replied, “ransomware and cryptocurrency are becoming inextricably linked.”

“Cryptocurrency is fairly new…we certainly had ransomware attacks before, but they are much more prolific,” said Lenz, an expert in machine learning, blockchain and financial innovation.

When it comes to how to prevent these kinds of attacks, Lenz noted that most current measures are defensive rather than offensive. He suggested that “the preventative side is where we should be thinking and where we have opportunity.”

From left to right: Jimmie Lenz, Kim Kotlar and Curtis Dukes

The panelists each lined out where they hope to see congressional action on these issues. Dukes noted that he would like to see Congress implement a cyber breach notification system and incentivize the adoption of national security best practices. When it comes to cryptocurrency, Lenz said the one thing Congress can do is ‘incentivize.’

In effect, this would create a ‘bureau of cyber statistics’ which, as Dukes explained, “would establish the quantitative foundation and produce those type of statistical analysis on this evolution of the cyber ecosystem.” Further, this new body would provide the basis for informed policymaking and aid national risk assessments.

The group also agreed that a large problem in cybersecurity is the lack of data and information on certain attacks – including how attackers got around a victim’s network and defenses.

Lenz also discussed the continued advancements in quantum computing sciences with reference to IonQ – the first publicly traded pure-play quantum computing company – founded by Duke’s Jungsang Kim and Chris Monroe.

“We should be talking about quantum hardening,” Lenz stated, “we’re going to have to leapfrog things, we don’t have the time for linear.”

“We’re going to have to leapfrog things, we don’t have time for linear.”

Jimmie Lenz

Lenz described FinTech as the “melding of finance and technology.” In his early career as a trader, he witnessed how the field evolved from a highly manual environment to an increasingly electronic and automated financial ecosystem and said it has only continued to evolve rapidly over just the past decade.

“In the past, somebody went to a bank because it was like a supermarket – you could go there and buy all kinds of different services. Now, I don’t have to go to a supermarket… I can do all this on my phone.”

Above all else, the panel highlighted the critical need to properly educate people on the risks associated with cybersecurity and how to properly train and approach ransomware attempts. “There really needs to be an education initiative,” said Lenz “we would be happy to do this at Duke for whatever members are interested. Education in this area – because it is so new – is so important and understanding the architecture underneath… in particular before legislating.”

“In the cyber domain where collaboration is king,” said Kotlar, “we need people with all skill sets with different levels of interests to come together.” Lenz, who is leading Duke’s new strategic partnership with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) on risk management, FinTech and cyber also emphasized this need for collaboration.

“A lot of regulation takes place in a rearview mirror, and we don’t want to do that,” said Lenz.

A Familiar Start to Fall – Returning to Reconciliation and Washington, D.C.

As the summer comes to a close, Congress is returning to our nation’s capital and school is back in session on Duke’s campus. After a rather atypical summer recess, the FY22 budget and bipartisan infrastructure bill are still first on the agenda for lawmakers returning to Washington this month.

FY22 Budget & Appropriations

Budget Reconciliation:

In August, the Senate and House approved the $3.5 trillion FY22 budget resolution, which unlocked the budget reconciliation process.  Duke’s current priorities for the FY22 budget resolution and reconciliation package include federal research funding, doubling the maximum Pell Grant and providing a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients. The House package addresses most of these priorities and details can be found in this summary.

The fate of the $3.5 trillion package remains unclear, but the Office of Government Relations will continue to advocate for Duke’s priorities as the process moves forward this fall.

FY 22 Appropriations:

Summer is typically a busy time for congressional appropriators, and this year was no different. The delayed release of the FY 22 budget request compressed the timetable, and the House launched into a flurry of activity in June and July. To date, the House Appropriations Committee has approved all 12 of the FY 22 funding bills, and the full House has passed 9 of the 12 bills. The Senate Appropriations Committee started its work just before the August district work period and approved 3 of its bills. Below is a snapshot of the current status of some of Duke’s appropriations priorities.

A continuing resolution to keep the government funded beyond the end of this fiscal year on September 30th is a given, and a messy debate is expected as the endgame for FY 22 appropriations collides with calls to raise the debt ceiling to avoid a default.

Research and Innovation

Congress spent a good part of the early summer debating and passing legislation that sets forth a bold vision for ensuring the nation’s global leadership in scientific research and innovation. Among the legislation includes the Senate-passed U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (USICA) as well as both the House-passed NSF and DOE for the Future Acts. The House Science, Space and Technology Committee has also approved a reauthorization bill for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), a bill to create regional innovation hubs and legislation to create a new federal research and development program for the bioeconomy.

These proposals would authorize more robust funding levels for the NSF, DOE Office of Science, NIST and DARPA, and seeks to spread the funding across the country instead of at a few concentrated high-tech regions. Congressional negotiators are expected to work this fall to try to resolve the differences between the Senate and House legislation.

In the Executive Branch, the White House launched a National Artificial Intelligence Task Force which aims to expand access to critical resources and tools to help stimulate AI innovation nationwide.

Foreign Influence and Research Security

The debate over federal innovation legislation was infused with concerns over the nation’s competitiveness advantage vis a vis China. In response, many of these bills contain provisions that seek to address research security and foreign influence focused on recurring themes such as participation in foreign talent recruitment programs and disclosure of financial transactions between universities and the Chinese government. A sampling of these provisions can be found here and here.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released guidance for research security and researcher responsibility this summer. This guidance builds upon work from the Trump administration to strengthen protections of U.S. government supported research and development while also ensuring continued innovation and collaboration. The guidance outlined that it will be focusing on disclosure policy, oversight and enforcement and research security programs.

Higher Education and Back to School

The higher education community recently launched the #DoublePell website, which advocates for Congress to double the maximum Pell Grant award to $13,000 and increase funding for other federal student aid programs in FY22 to make attending college more accessible and affordable. As noted above the final numbers for these funding issues will depend on negotiations in Congress that are ongoing.

In August, the Biden administration issued its final extension of the temporary pause on student loan payment collection through January 2022. This is the fourth time the pause has been extended since first being issued in March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Also this summer, the Department of Education announced that the scheduled FAFSA overhaul will be delayed one year. The department will still begin its phased implementation this year and all the changes are scheduled to be completed by award year 2024-25.


Duke University, the larger higher education community, and others in the business community across the county have continued to urge Congress and the Biden administration to provide a pathway to citizenship for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) eligible individuals and dreamers.

The recent Texas district court ruling has thrown into further limbo the lives of hundreds of thousands of young Dreamers, and gravely impacted their employers, families, and communities. The Biden administration has appealed the Texas court ruling. On Sunday September 19 the Senate Parliamentarian ruled against Democrats including in their budget reconciliation package a pathway to legal status for nearly 8 million undocumented people. Congressional Democrats continue to explore alternative legislative fixes to provide a legal path to citizenship.

Duke signed on to an amicus brief in support of Optional Practical Training (OPT), which emphasized the program’s important role in providing experiential learning opportunities, which allow students to practice and implement the educational skills they have developed on campus.

On September 14th, the State Department stated, in accordance with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), it will begin allowing consular offices through the end of 2021 to waive visa interview requirements for F, M, and academic J visa applicants who meet certain criteria. The department emphasized, “International students are now and always have been among the Department of State’s highest priorities.”

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.


This last week the House Ways and Means Committee passed the Build Back Better Act that address a number of higher education’s top tax priorities, including taxation of Pell Grants and the interaction with the American Opportunity Tax Credit, mitigate the tax on net investment income, authorize direct pay bonds modeled on the Build America Bonds program, and reinstate advance refunding of tax-exempt bonds.  The bill would also permit students with a felony drug conviction to claim the American Opportunity Tax Credit. 

Updates From Duke in DC

The summer didn’t stop Duke from having an active presence in Washington, D.C. The Duke in DC office held another round of its Beyond Talking Points series, focusing on environmental justice from multiple lenses including food and agriculture, trade and diplomacy, and water and infrastructure. The office also held a congressional briefing on childcare infrastructure and the Duke Family Connects model as it relates to current legislation being considered in Congress. Finally in September, Duke in DC hosted a conversation on cybersecurity, emerging technologies and FinTech, featuring Director of the Master of Engineering in FinTech and the Master of Engineering in Cybersecurity at the Duke Pratt School of Engineering, Jimmie Lenz and Duke cyber mentor and retired naval officer, congressional staffer and NSA executive, Kim Kotlar.

Duke professor emeritus of sociology and founding director of the Duke Global Value Chains Center Gary Gereffi came to D.C in July to provide expert testimony for the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. Gereffi briefed members on global supply chains and noted the importance of a renewed federal focus on supply chain resiliency. You can access a recap and full recording of his testimony on our blog here.

By Lizzie Devitt, Posted 9/17/21

Gary Gereffi Briefs Congress on Supply Chain Resiliency

Gary Gereffi, professor emeritus of sociology and founding director of the Duke Global Value Chains Center visited the nation’s capital on July 15, 2021, to brief Congress on global supply chain resiliency.

“Recent disruptions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic have brought both the significance and risks of supply chains to the American consciousness as never before…It has resulted in unprecedented supply shortages and demand fluctuations that have affected virtually all U.S. industries,” Gereffi testified.

He went on the note the importance of a renewed federal focus on supply chain resiliency. Following up on a White House report on the topic in June 2021, the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held a hearing on July 15th, Implementing Supply Chain Resiliency, which included testimony from Gary Gereffi.

Gereffi’s opening statement gave senators an overview of the recent emergence of supply chains as a research field and looked at the evolving geographic shifts and focus on Asia in supply chains.

Highlighting the traditional model of top-down supply chain models, Gereffi offered the success of North Carolina in the Global Economy Project as an example of a bottom-up model that builds resiliency in the United States.

Looking at the NC textile industry as an example, Gereffi noted, “Among the insights gleaned from the NC-Global Economy project is that traditional industries like textiles and furniture have adapted in striking ways to recent political, economic and technological shifts. While North Carolina’s textile firms accommodated NAFTA by continuing to supply apparel customers that moved to Mexico and Central America, the industry also embraced technological change via the growth of nonwoven and “technical” textiles in the state’s output and exports.”

Duke and Aspen Institute Experts Consider Federal Policy and Its Environmental Justice Impacts

Environmental justice touches all aspects of life – from the food we put on our tables, the water in our faucets, the communities we live in, even our international affairs and much more. As the Biden administration has already set goals to address the climate crisis, a key component in tackling climate issues, domestic and abroad, is environmental justice.

Duke in DC recently hosted a Beyond Talking Points virtual event series, which convened a group of experts from Duke University and the Aspen Institute to discuss the environmental justice impacts that result from food, agriculture, trade, international relations and water infrastructure. The panelists considered ways the federal government could incentivize or advance sustainability as well as increase access to essential resources.

Beyond Talking Points is a regular briefing series exposing the federal policy community in Washington, DC to in-depth discussions on critical issues facing America and the world. Each event features a complex and relevant policy topic to be discussed by a panel of experts from Duke and external organizations.

This series was held on consecutive Friday mornings beginning on May 21st through June 4th, and featured Duke faculty from the Sanford School of Public Policy, Divinity School, Law School, Pratt School of Engineering, Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and John Hope Franklin Humanities Center.

The events were attended by a range of congressional staffers representing over 30 House and 14 Senate member offices, including 7 different offices representing North Carolina’s congressional delegation, as well as 6 Senate and 9 House committees. Other attendees included staff from 6 different federal agencies.

Below is more information about the panel from each conversation with the title serving as hyperlink to the recorded discussion.

Food & Agriculture: Who We Feed and How We Farm 

  • Kelly D. Brownell, Director of the World Food Policy Center and Former Dean of the Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University
  • Norbert L. W. Wilson, Professor of Food, Economics and Community, Duke Divinity School
  • Corby Kummer, Executive Director of the Food and Society Program, Aspen Institute
  • Moderated by Pipa Elias, Deputy Director of the Environment Program, Walton Family Foundation

The Role of Environmental Justice in International Trade and Diplomacy

  • Rachel Brewster, Jeffrey and Bettysue Hughes Professor of Law, Duke School of Law
  • Jackson Ewing, Senior Fellow, Duke Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions 
  • Moderated by Jariel Arvin, Foreign and World Fellow, Vox

Infrastructure Priorities: Water’s Role in Promoting Equitable Planning and Investment

  • Catherine Flowers, Environmental Health Advocate and 2020 MacArthur Fellow
  • Martin Doyle, Director of the Water Policy Program, Duke Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions
  • Greg Gershuny, Executive Director of the Energy and Environment Program, Aspen Institute
  • Moderated by Andrew Jones III, Incoming Professor at Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Investing in Water and Sanitation Infrastructure With Equity in Mind

“Citizens have to be engaged and make our voices heard to have an impact on the policies that are put in place. Even when political figures change, the policies are still there,” explained Catherine Flowers, environmental health advocate and 2020 MacArthur Fellow, during a Duke in DC event on June 4th.

Flowers joined Martin Doyle, director of the Water Policy Program at Duke Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, Greg Gershuny, executive director of the Energy and Environment Program at the Aspen Institute and Andrew Jones III, incoming professor at Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering in the department of civil and environmental engineering for Infrastructure Priorities: Water’s Role in Promoting Equitable Planning and Investment, part of the Beyond Talking Points series on environmental justice.

When it comes to the political will to address water and sanitation infrastructure, Martin Doyle believes “technology exists to do amazing things with water – to clean it, to move it, to pump it, but it takes the political will and a fairly large amount of money and energy,” and as a result, “the technology may not as well exist.”

Due to climate change, many of the problems Americans are facing with water and sanitation are growing. It’s no longer just isolated to rural areas – Flowers mentioned that the current systems were not built to respond to climate change, which results in sunny day flooding, even in urban areas.

When we think about investing in new technologies that account for climate change, Greg Gershuny notes that in terms of research and development, “we need to think about not just what we need now, but what we need 10 years from now. When we install these technologies, they’re going to last for decades in some cases, so we’ve got to be thinking ahead.”

Environmental justice plays a significant role when we consider how all communities in the U.S. will have access to affordable and sustainable water and sanitation. Gershuny said, “for people who have clean drinking water and sanitation, it’s really easy to forget that there are a lot of people within the U.S. that don’t have access to those things… as we deploy these new technologies in the U.S. to more communities, it helps drives down the price of those technologies which then allows more communities to build them.”

A large number of federal agencies – Department of the Interior (DOI), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) all address issues related to water. However, Doyle pointed out that, “In the end, water is local.“ State and local governments provide the vast amount of funding for water and the federal government is needed for coordination among these different entities.

Meanwhile, Flowers commended the administration for looking “at all of these issues through an equity lens.”

“What we’re seeing now is there is a correlation between people having a voice, that’s why we see a lot of voter suppression laws coming into play now, and whether or not there is going to be sanitation equity.”

Advancing technology infrastructure to provide accessible information about water is crucial to help empower communities to advocate for themselves and address their problems. “We need to be able to put the data and the science in the hands of the people so they can advocate for themselves,” added Andrew Jones, “we have 21st century and 18th century technology opportunity in the same bowl.”

The group agreed that water data and reports need to be more accessible and digestible to the general public. Doyle explained that “the things we basically communicate about water – if you wanted to design a system that was more intentionally opaque, it would be difficult to do so.”

Flowers also stated, “we’re talking about solutions, but we don’t even understand the problem yet because there has been no central collection of data.”

“People should know where their watersheds are and where their water comes from,” said Flowers, “the more we know, the more we are educated about it, the more informed our decision making can be.”

In terms of private industry’s role in both water security and environmental justice, Doyle said, “we keep hoping that big corporations and manufacturing facilities will make water-based locational decisions – that they will move to areas with sustainable water.” However, companies continue to make investments in areas known for their water insecurity.

“When major investments in something as central to our economy and national security as chip manufacturing is being placed in areas like Arizona, that clearly has water challenges it really does start to raise questions about whether we’re putting ourselves in a place where national security and water security are truly intertwined.”

Moving forward, the only way to ensure people care about these issues is to show how everyone is affected.

“One of the principles of environmental justice is you have to let the people speak for themselves and the second principle is do no harm,” Flowers explained, “we will never have equity until we have community engagement.”

By Lizzie Devitt, 6/15/21

A Global Perspective on Environmental Justice Through Trade and Climate Change

Domestically, we have begun to gain a deeper understanding of environmental justice, but what does it mean when we consider policy and relationships at the international level?

On May 28th, Rachel Brewster, the Jeffrey and Bettysue Hughes Professor of Law at Duke School of Law and Jackson Ewing, Senior Fellow at Duke Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions participated in a conversation titled, The Role of Environmental Justice in International Trade and Diplomacy, moderated by Jariel Arvin, Foreign and World Fellow at Vox.

“Trade ideally would do something positive for the environment and environmental justice,“ Rachel Brewster stated. However, “trade has a history with environmentalists as being more interested in the free flow of goods and services across borders than environmental goals and I think there is just a lot of distrust. The trade regime is definitely on board with the idea that climate change is a problem, but at the same time, they want environmental issues addressed in a certain way.”

Brewster outlined two of the major issues she sees between trade and the environment and environmental justice – carbon border adjustment mechanisms (CBAMs) and energy subsidies.

When one country has its own cap and trade or carbon tax system and other countries do not, the country with a system in place will essentially tax goods and services imported at the border, otherwise known as a carbon border adjustment mechanism.

Brewster hypothesized that the European Union, which already adopted a cap-and-trade system, is likely going to implement a carbon border adjustment mechanism in the near future and begin with taxing carbon intensive goods including steel, aluminum, paper, textiles and chemicals.

CBAM would apply to all countries, which does pose new implications for environmental justice in terms of the distributional effects, particularly for low- and middle-income countries. Brewster explained that some potential solutions include implementing a generalized system of preferences (GSP) program with certain countries to lower tariffs and additional climate negotiations to deal with the redistribution.

In the case of energy subsidies, Brewster said she hopes “that trade can be of help on these issues and at the very least, get out of the way.”

Subsidies point to an area where international trade and the environment intersect. Brewster explained that it’s important to be aware of the distributional elements and often times “dealing with justice should be a state-by-state issue.”

Jackson Ewing opened by first noting his area of expertise, climate change mitigation, “differs from most environmental challenges in being a truly global collective action problem.”

Given this global nature, each country’s individual goals and actions play a role in leveling the playing field. Ewing added, “since the Paris agreement was ratified, we now have highly differential targets across all countries in the world… fundamentally shifts the way these market interactions will work and calls into the efficacy and justice of exchanging those emissions reductions across borders.”

Ewing noted a variety of regimes at play in coordinating countries’ actions. One is that he expects to play a bigger role in the future is in the private sector – voluntary carbon markets. He said that not only does he think “they are part of the solution and are not going anywhere,” but also, they are “proven to be adept in reaching the outcomes.”

In terms of the environmental justice issues attached to this, he acknowledged that reductions of emissions also have a range of co-benefits and that lead to continued carbon emissions elsewhere.  “The criticism often lobbied by these market-based mechanisms is that they allow companies and the jurisdictions where they exist to continue their own pollutive activities that have nefarious consequences for those in the area and they make up for it by paying elsewhere.”

While the tension between environmental and justice goals persists, there are still efforts to consider. Implementing emission quotas, for instance, could help alleviate the most significant effects.

By Lizzie Devitt, 6/9/21

Springing into Summer: The Washington, D.C. Edit

Between the cherry blossoms and cicadas, this spring has seen a flurry of activity from the administration and Congress. The White House has released several major proposals including the American Jobs Plan, American Families Plan and most recently, the FY22 President’s budget request. At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, Congress has begun its work in response to the President’s budget and major legislation from infrastructure to matters related to technological competitiveness with China. Below are some of the highlights this spring with direct impacts for Duke University, its faculty, staff and students.

FY22 Budget Request

The White House released its much-delayed full FY 2022 budget blueprint on May 28th. The $6 trillion proposal includes the two previously released infrastructure proposals –  $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan and the $1.8 trillion American Families Plan – as well as $1.5 trillion in discretionary spending.

Overall, the President’s budget request proposes $171.26 billion in research and development and  $3.3 billion in discretionary funding for higher education programs. As illustrated by the chart below, the administration recommends strong to substantial increases for most of the research and education programs of interest to Duke.

On the research side, many of the proposed increases can be attributed to the creation of new entities, such as $6.5 billion request for a new Advanced Research Projects Agency – Health (ARPA-H) at NIH and a new Technology, Innovation and Partnerships Directorate at NSF, as well as the broad infusion of funding for climate science across multiple agencies, including the creation of an Advanced Research Projects Agency-Climate (ARPA-C).

At the Department of Education, the budget would increase the maximum Pell grant to $8,370 for the 2022-2023 school year, through a combination of discretionary increases in the budget and mandatory increases through the American Families Plan. The White House is also proposing making Pell available to “DREAMers,” or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients. Federal Work Study was allocated $1.190 million, which is the same funding level as FY21.                 

Congress has already begun holding hearings on the FY 22 request, and the House Appropriations Committee is expected to begin markups later this month.

Biden-Harris Administration: Appointments and Executive Orders

Over the past several months, the Biden administration has completed its nominations for all cabinet-level positions and all have been confirmed by the Senate, with the exception of OMB Director, which is currently held by Shalanda Young in an acting role due to nominee Neera Tanden’s withdrawal from that post.

Several current and recent Duke faculty members and staff have been tapped to serve in the administration including,

  • Robert Bonnie as Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation at the Department of Agriculture
  • Ronnie Chatterji as Chief Economist in the U.S. Department of Commerce
  • Arti Rai as Senior Advisor in the Office of General Counsel in the U.S. Department of Commerce
  • Chris Schroeder as Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice
  • Marta Wosinska as Director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Economics.

President Biden issued an executive order forming the Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court of the United States, comprised of a bipartisan group of experts including several Duke faculty members: Guy Uriel-Charles, Walter Dellinger, Margaret Lemos and David Levi.

For a comprehensive list of administration positions and the status of nominations and confirmations, you can visit our website here.


A major focus of congressional debate over the spring has been on the nation’s innovation capacity and global competitiveness. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senator Todd Young (R-IN) reintroduced their Endless Frontiers Act, which would create a new $100 billion Technology and Innovation Directorate at NSF and create regional innovation hubs through the Department of Commerce. Framed as an effort to boost technological competition with China, it became a centerpiece of a broader competitiveness measure – the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (USICA). Several Senate committees were tasked with creating proposals to address challenges from China, which were ultimately incorporated into the bigger package, and several include provisions addressing concerns with foreign influence and research security issues. The package also contains authorizations for the Department of Energy, NASA, and DARPA. The Senate is expected to continue consideration of USICA next week, with a potential vote on final passage.

The House is taking a different approach so far with the House Science, Space and Technology (SST) Committee developing more traditional reauthorization measures for NSF and DOE Office of Science. Although the Endless Frontiers Act has been reintroduced in the House, it is anticipated that the House SST Committee’s NSF for the Future Act will be the centerpiece of any sort of competitiveness package in that chamber.

Foreign Influence and Research Security

As noted above, the Senate’s US Innovation and Competition Act contains multiple provisions addressing issues related to foreign influence and research security. Some of these are incorporated in the base bill and others have been offered as amendments. This includes a ban on federal research awards to participants of foreign talent recruitment programs sponsored by China, Russia, North Korea and Iran, lowering of the Higher Education Act Section 117 reporting threshold, which requires universities to report foreign gifts and contracts they receive that is valued over the threshold amount, from $250,000 to $50,000, and requires universities to ensure all faculty and staff report any gifts or contracts from a foreign source and maintain a searchable database of that data.

Over 500 amendments were filed and several amendments of serious concern were either voted down or are unlikely to make it to the floor for a vote. It is expected that some of these proposals could arise during the upcoming consideration of the annual defense authorization bill.

Higher Education

In May, the Biden administration announced its plans to overhaul a wide range of federal higher education policies including gainful employment, public service loan forgiveness and a variety of other student aid policies. The Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education will hold three public hearings to receive feedback from stakeholders on potential issues related to rulemaking. The conversations will address the Pell grant, which Duke and a wide range of higher education institutions and associations have advocated for doubling.

The department’s Office of Civil Rights will also hold a series of public hearings to gather information on how to improve Title IX enforcement, beginning on June 7th.


In April, Immigration and Citizenship Enforcement (ICE) announced that the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) will extend its March 2020 guidance regarding distance learning for the 2021-2022 academic year.

After closing during the pandemic, a selection of embassies, including China and India, have announced they are beginning to reopen for visa appointments. More information on the phased resumption of visa processing is still emerging, and our office continues to monitor its progress.

Duke’s President Vincent E Price participated in a roundtable conversation on March 25th alongside North Carolina’s Governor Roy Cooper to urge Congress to take up important immigration-related legislation. The event was hosted by the American Business Immigration Coalition (ABIC).

Additional Updates from Washington, DC

This spring, several Duke faculty participated in virtual Capitol Hill advocacy events, including those in support of the National Endowment for the Humanities and National Quantum Initiative.  President Price also engaged in several virtual meetings with new and returning members of the North Carolina congressional delegation.

On May, 19th, Duke’s Chris Monroe testified at the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy hearing, Accelerating Discovery: The Future of Scientific Computing at the Department of Energy. Monroe, an architect of the National Quantum Initiative (NQI) and current member of the National Quantum Information Advisory Committee, provided perspective on progress made so far under the NQI. Duke Government Relations posted a full blog recap of Monroe’s testimony here.

Duke in DC also hosted a 3-part virtual series, Beyond Talking Points: Environmental Justice, which convened a group of Duke and Aspen Institute experts to discuss food and agriculture policy, trade and diplomacy, and water and infrastructure and how policies in each area related to environmental justice.

If you’re interested in more information and resources from Washington, D.C. – Duke’s Office of Government Relations has created new and updated pages on its website that keep track of all executive orders, regulations and cabinet-level appointments relevant to Duke, as well as letters and statements from Duke and Duke-affiliated associations and updated info on the North Carolina delegation and the 117th Congress. The Chronicle of Higher Education also provides regular updates on new developments in higher education in the early days of the Biden-Harris administration.

By Lizzie Devitt, 6/4/21

Care Infrastructure for Whole Child and Family Health

“As a pediatrician – I believe that a care infrastructure is deeply needed to enable that coordinative response to address the needs of young families and, in turn, to address the growing disparities that we see in our pediatric communities that have been highlighted during the COVID pandemic,” stated Dr. Debra Best, associate professor in the departments of pediatrics and community and family medicine at Duke School of Medicine.

Best joined a panel on May 26th with her colleagues – Kenneth Dodge, professor of public policy studies at Duke as well as founder and principal investigator at Family Connects and Kimberly Friedman, policy engagement & analysis coordinator at Family Connects – for a conversation about care infrastructure, the Family Connects model and how federal government can consider implementing programs like it and investing in deeper, more holistic care infrastructure. The event was moderated by Dr. Lee Beers, MD, the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and medical director of community health and advocacy at Children’s National Hospital.

Ken Dodge started the conversation by giving a description of care infrastructure and the impetus for developing the Family Connects model. Dodge explained they learned in their work, “that families giving birth are largely on their own in our society to find supportive services – whether it’s getting a housing loan or seeking mental health services for postpartum depression or finding the best childcare. As a result, many families giving birth are frightened and alone and do not access the resources that they need.”

“Family Connects works like a pediatrician,” Dodge stated, “but for psychosocial development, social services, and emotional and behavioral support.”

Dr. Best also touched on the fragmented systems of support and services for new families and the difficulty navigating them. “The answer isn’t another program, rather a system of engineering between programs,” she explained, “which would create a cohesive system of care and support whole person health and care from the start.”

Family Connects International began in Durham but has since grown to be implemented in 17 states and 43 communities nationwide. Dodge explained that in 2009, he and his colleagues set a goal to lower the child abuse rate in Durham. From there, the group launched into formative research that led to development of the Family Connects model.

“We found success,” said Dodge, “and we did actually help lower mother anxiety, increase their self-confidence, which led to positive outcomes in terms of lower rates of child abuse by about 39% and also lowered the costs for emergency medical care for young children.”

Now, the focus of the organization is supporting states and communities that seek to include the Family Connects model in their early childhood system of care, including the state of Oregon. Kimberly Friedman discussed the program’s presence in the state,In 2016 [Oregon] passed some really bold legislation that creates a universally offered newborn home visiting program to be rolled out statewide. What is unique about this, in terms of building a care infrastructure across the state, is the requirement within the legislation that commercial health plans… reimburse for the cost for those universally offered newborn home visiting services for their members.”

In terms of state and federal funding, “To have this type of service recognized as preventative service, so that for high deductible health plans, it could be covered, Family Connects should never be something that a family pays for, it should be a universal service… With a statewide or larger metropolitan rollout similar to what we are doing in Chicago, we need an infrastructure, a backbone, to partner with us and support this work.”

By Lizzie Devitt, 6/1/21

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