The latest news and resources from Duke Government Relations.


The DC Digest - January 22, 2021

  • President Biden Announces His Selection for Acting Cabinet Members and Senior Staff at the Department of Education 
  • Biden Announces Regulatory Freeze
  • In the First Week in Office, Biden Issues Orders on Immigration and Student Loans  
  • Tweet of the Week!

The Duke Digest - January 21, 2021

  • Nakayama Scholars Program Support Students Seeking Public Service
  • Duke Chapel Bells Ring During National COVID Memorial 
  • Duke Students Win Annual Cyber Strategy Challenge
  • And Much More...

The DC Digest - January, 19, 2021

  • President-elect Biden Announces Key Members to White House Science 
  • Today's Senate Confirmation Hearings
  • JCORE Publishes Recommendations for Protecting the U.S. Technology Research Enterprise
  • NSF Invites Feedback on its Vision, Core Values, Strategic Goals and Objectives 
  • International Students Report OPT Processing Delays 

The DC Digest - January 15, 2021

  • SEVP Announces New Unit to Oversee Optional Practical Training Compliance
  • DOL Unveils Final H-1B Wage Prioritization Rule
  • President-elect Biden Announces Plan for Higher Education Relief
  • President Trump Signs National Security Presidential Memo on Federally-Funded R&D 
  • Department of Education Releases Section 117 "True Copies" Proposed Rule
  • Tweet of the Week!

The Duke Digest - January 14, 2021

  • Rev. Starsky Wilson to Highlight Duke's MLK Commemoration Events
  • Equity in the Faculty Hiring Process 
  • Researchers Develop a Post-Surgical Patch That Releases Non-Opioid Painkiller
  • And Much More...

The DC Digest - January 12, 2021

  • President-elect Biden Announces Several Duke Alums to His Administration
  • Biden Plans to Continue the Pause on Student Loan Relief When He Takes Office
  • Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf Announces He Will Step Down
  • OSTP Announces the Establishment of the National Artificial Intelligence Initiative Office

The DC Digest - January 8, 2021

  • Resignations, Nominations, and Election Results
  • EPA Science Rule Takes Effect
  • Final Immigration Rule Announced
  • Tweet of the Week!

The Duke Digest - January 7, 2021

  • Vaccine Questions and Answers
  •  Gov. Cooper Visits with Frontline Medical Workers at Duke
  • Duke Affiliated Startup Helping Local Businesses Use Tech to Manage COVID
  • And Much More...

The DC Digest - January 5, 2021

  • The 117th Congress Begins
  • Congress Hands President Trump a Veto Override to Pass NDAA
  • NIST Proposes Clarification for Federal Patent Override
  • President Trump Extends Suspension of Certain Worker Visas Through March 

A Wrap on 2020 in Washington, D.C.

As we round out 2020, our nation’s capital has not slowed down. Over the past few months, there has been an election accompanied by new activity from the White House and Congress, that directly impact Duke University. In this blog, our office has summarized the major events and developments from Washington, DC in the second half of the year that hold significance for the Duke community.

Election Recap

Presidential Election

Joe Biden was declared the winner of the 2020 presidential election on November 7th, with the Electoral College formalizing the win on December 14th.  The transition process was delayed, but President-elect Biden has begun to roll out his picks for key cabinet and advisor positions. Two Duke faculty members, Robert Bonnie and Christopher Schroeder, were appointed as leads to the Biden-Harris Department of Agriculture and Department of Justice agency review teams, respectively.  Duke’s Office of Government Relations (OGR) is closely monitoring the Biden-Harris transition activities and noting any connections to Duke.

Changes in Leadership and Makeup for the 117th Congress

The 2020 election precipitated several new changes to the North Carolina delegation. Three new members to the delegation will be Democrats Deborah Ross (NC-2) and Kathy Manning (NC-6) and Republican Madison Cawthorn (NC-11). Additionally, following the protracted redistricting process in North Carolina, Duke’s main campus has moved back to the 4th Congressional District for the 117th Congress, which is represented by Representative David Price (D-NC).

Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) was re-elected as he defeated his Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham. Control of the Senate still hangs in the balance and won’t be determined until after the January 5, 2021 runoff election in Georgia.

Four Duke alumni currently serving in Congress were re-elected and will return for the 117th Congress. In the House, Mo Brooks T'75 (R-AL), Scott Peters T'80 (D-CA) and Mike Levin L'05 (D-CA) were all re-elected. Senator Shelley Moore Capito T'75 (R-WV) also won another term, where she serves alongside Sen. Rand Paul M'88 (R-KY).  After having lost the primary election earlier this year, Rep. Dan Lipinski M'98 (D-IL) will not be serving in the next Congress. Rep. Bradley Byrne T'77 (R-AL) gave up his seat in the House earlier this year to run for Senate, which he lost in the primary. 

Moving into the 117th Congress, there will also be several Congressional committee leadership changes. Notably, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, Nita Lowey (D-NY), both a Duke parent and grandparent, is retiring and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) will take the gavel in her place. Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and Mike Rogers (R-AL) were elected as the new ranking members of the House Energy and Commerce and House Armed Services Committees, respectively.

Meanwhile, the House Education and Labor and House Science, Space and Technology Committees will maintain the same leadership with Chair Bobby Scott (D-VA) and ranking member Virginia Foxx (R-NC) and Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and ranking member Frank Lucas (R-AL), all re-elected respectively. Reps. Jerold Nadler (D-NY) and Jim Jordan (R-OH) will continue to serve as chairman and ranking member on the House Judiciary Committees.  In the Senate, Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and will continue to serve as the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the ranking member has yet to be determined. Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA) will also continue to serve as chair for the Ways and Means Committee, with Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) as ranking.

The House of Representatives has released their legislative calendar for the 2021 calendar year.

Legislative and Presidential Administration Activities

FY 2021 Budget and COVID-19 Relief

On the evening of December 21st, 2020, Congress passed the $1.4 trillion FY 21 omnibus spending measure along with a $900 billion coronavirus relief package. This omnibus bill will fund the federal government through September 30, 2021 and includes the following funding recommendations for programs of interest to the Duke community. Below is a chart highlighting the legislation’s topline allocations for federal agencies that are relevant to Duke:

The COVID-19 Response and Relief legislation includes $20.2 billion additional funds for the Department of Education’s Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) for public and private, nonprofit institutions based on headcount and full-time student enrollment.

In addition to the FY21 and COVID-19 relief packages, Congress also tacked on several provisions related to higher education and tax. The legislation includes language to simplify Federal Application for Student Aid (FAFSA), increase the maximum Pell Grant to $6,495 and reinstates Pell eligibility for incarcerated students. Related to employer and tax benefits, there is also language to expand and extend charitable giving deductions and the employee-retention tax credit for private employers through June 30th, 2021. 

Immigration policy

This year, accompanied by the coronavirus pandemic, included several pieces of legislation and executive action on immigration policy that had significant impact on universities.

The Department of Labor (DOL) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) both proposed changes to H-1B visa rules. The DHS interim final rule would restrict H-1B qualifications and the DOL interim final rule would dramatically raise wage requirements for employees who have H-1B visas. At the beginning of December, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California decided that both the DHS and DOL rules should be rendered invalid nationwide. On December 14th, another federal judge ruled against the DOL proposed regulation. Duke has continued voice its opposition to both rules on the basis that they would be unnecessarily harmful to international students and faculty as well as our U.S. universities.

The Supreme Court voted to uphold the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program earlier this year and on December 4th, a federal judge ordered the Trump administration to fully restore DACA. The ruling effectively reestablishes the program and places a mandate on the Department for Homeland Security (DHS) begin accepting new applicants.

Science & Security and Foreign Influence

Congressional actions

After months of negotiations, the House and Senate released the conference agreement for the FY 21 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). In addition to setting funding recommendations for Department of Defense programs, including its Science and Technology programs, it also includes a handful of policy measures aimed at addressing science and security and foreign influence issues.

Both the House and Senate bills contained a mix of positive proposals and items of concern. The final conference package contained mostly good news for the higher education and research community. Most notably, the conference agreement contained language that would harmonize funding disclosure requirements, including domestic and foreign sources, among all federal agencies. The conference agreement also contains a provision that will create a new academic liaison position at DOD with the responsibility to work with academia on initiatives to protect DOD-sponsored research from undue foreign threats. Although several proposals to create programs to help attract and retain foreign talent at DOD did not make it into the conference report, the final agreement requests a National Academies comparative analysis of efforts by China and the US to recruit and retain foreign researchers and recommendations for the US – DOD and other federal agencies - to recruit and retain researchers and scientists relative to China. Finally, though not related to foreign influence, the final NDAA bill does contain the National AI Initiative.

The conference agreement passed both the House and Senate by wide margins, well beyond the votes needed to overturn President Trump’s threatened veto.

Administration/agency actions

Last month, the Department of Education published a Notice of Interpretation (NOI) on “the department’s enforcement authority for failure to adequately report under Section 117.” As a reminder, Section 117 of the Higher Education Act requires colleges and universities to report any foreign gift and contract they receive that is valued over $250,000. In the NOI, which is currently in effect, the Department of Education implies it has authority to tie Section 117 compliance failures to an institution’s eligibility to participate in Title IV student aid programs. The higher education associations submitted comments in response stating the interpretation is not consistent with the HEA and requests a formal rulemaking process.

Other activities at Duke and Duke in DC

Moving into 2021, Duke OGR plans to continue its efforts to support the university and students’ policy interests into next Congress and the Biden-Harris administration. Duke in DC will hold a series of programs, including its original Beyond Talking Points event series beginning in February. Duke in DC also held an event on December 10th entitled “Housing is Where the Health is,” with several faculty experts about their research on environmental justice.

Posted 12/22/20



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