CGS Releases 2021-2022 Federal Policy Agenda

On January 27, CGS released its 2021-2022 Federal Policy Agenda, which serves as the association’s guiding framework for its policy and advocacy work over the next two years. The agenda outlines the Council’s federal policy priorities and calls upon the 117th Congress and the Biden Administration to support policies that improve access to graduate education, promote the U.S. as a global leader, and create a more equitable society for all.  As outlined in the agenda, CGS is committed to working with Congress and the Administration in a bipartisan manner to strengthen federal student loans and financial aidprime tax policies to support graduate educationpromote the U.S. through international graduate education and researchadvance research and innovation; and support graduate student success and wellbeing. New and updated corresponding policy briefs for the agenda on maximizing Pell grantshow graduate students finance their education, and Optional Practical Training are available here.

Biden Announces Dept. of Ed Officials, Progress on Cabinet Confirmations

On January 21, the Department of Education announced senior officials who will lead various offices across the agency. The twelve political appointees are diverse individuals with an equally diverse spread of experience in education. Notably, President Biden has appointed Sheila Nix as chief of staff. She would work directly under Biden’s nominee for Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona, once confirmed. Nix has worked with the Bidens since the second term of the Obama administration and recently worked on the Biden/Harris campaign as a senior advisor to then-Senator Kamala Harris.


Additionally, Rich Williams will serve as chief of staff in the Office of Postsecondary Education. Williams’ expertise includes college affordability, student debt, and consumer protection policies. Among other appointees, Claudia Chavez will join the agency as the White House Liaison; Donna Harris-Aikens will serve as the senior advisor for policy planning in the Office of the Secretary; and Ben Halle has been appointed as the deputy assistant secretary for communications in the Office of Communications and Outreach. The full list of the appointees announced is available here.


President Biden must fill roughly 4,000 politically appointed positions in the executive branch, including more than 1,250 roles that require Senate confirmation. Most pressing are cabinet-level officials, and the Senate has already begun confirming Biden’s nominees. On January 22, Janet Yellen was confirmed as secretary of the treasury, and General Lloyd Austin was confirmed as the secretary of defense. On January 26, Antony Blinken was confirmed as secretary of state.


During the week of January 25-29, the Senate held confirmation hearings on the nominations of Gina Marie Raimondo to be secretary of commerce; Marcia Louise Fudge to be secretary of housing and urban development; and Jennifer Mulhern Granholm to be secretary of energy. The Senate also held a business meeting to consider the nomination of Alejandro Mayorkas to be secretary of homeland security. The schedule of the House and Senate committee meetings and hearings for the week of February 1-5 is available here.

Congress Resumes Negotiations for Next COVID-19 Relief Package

On January 25, President Biden encouraged lawmakers to continue negotiations to reach bipartisan agreement on additional coronavirus relief legislation, according to a report from Roll Call. The White House has stated that it does not expect the final bipartisan negotiations to mirror Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which the President unveiled on January 14. President Biden has also vocalized his support for Congress to pass a comprehensive package, rather than the provisions taken up as piecemeal bills.


Senior Senate Democrats are considering the use of reconciliation to accelerate consideration of Biden’s proposed relief legislation if bipartisan negotiations fail to produce a bill. Reconciliation, a special legislative process that limits the scope of amendments and allows the Senate to avoid the filibuster, expedites congressional consideration of certain tax, spending, and debt limit legislation. Congress would first need to adopt a budget resolution containing reconciliation instructions for the relief package, a move Democratic leaders have suggested could take place in the coming days or weeks. With the Senate impeachment trial starting on February 9, the majority would need to move quickly to get a budget resolution to the floor for debate.


Lawmakers across the aisle will face pressure to produce relief legislation as the cut-off dates for provisions stipulated in the December aid package approach, including the $300 weekly unemployment benefits set to expire on March 14. CGS is committed to working with the 117th Congress and the Biden administration in a bipartisan manner to continue to provide sufficient relief for students and institutions through future COVID-19 supplemental legislation.

NSF Announces NRT Program Deadline

On January 26, the National Science Foundation announced the upcoming deadline for the NSF Research Traineeship (NRT) Program. The purpose of the NRT program is to explore the ways graduate students in research-based master’s and doctoral degree programs develop the skills, knowledge, and competencies needed to pursue a range of STEM careers. The program uses a comprehensive traineeship model that is innovative, evidence-based, and aligned with changing workforce and research needs. The upcoming full proposal deadline is February 25, 2021, and a second deadline is set for September 6, 2021.


CGS applauds the letter, which could expand access to financial resources for students. CGS also continues to advocate for graduate student access to specific federal financial aid programs, such as the Pell Grant Program, highlighted in a new policy brief: Maximizing Pell Grants to Support Graduate Students.

DOJ Considers Foreign Gift Reporting Program for Academics

The Department of Justice is considering an amnesty program that would allow U.S. academics to retroactively disclose foreign funding without the threat of punishment, first reported by the Wall Street Journal on January 22 and later noted in Inside Higher Ed. The program’s draft proposal comes after criticism of the Justice Department for the strict focus on foreign research funding and harsh prosecutions. It is undetermined how the Biden administration will handle the cases.


The program could serve as a solution to the ongoing issue of foreign gift reporting by institutions. In recent years, foreign gift reporting compliance was a top priority for the Trump Administration’s Department of Education. In June 2020, the Department created an online portal to simplify how institutions could report foreign gifts, which proved fruitful in amassing previously unreported transactions. In October, the Department released a report with results from an investigation into a dozen colleges and universities for the alleged underreporting of foreign gift and contract funding. In November, the Administration issued a rule that would block institutions from receiving federal funding if they fail to comply with required foreign gifts and contracts reporting.


The higher education community has continued to request clarifying guidance on foreign gift reporting. In November 2019, CGS joined higher education organizations on a letter requesting expanded guidance for institutions about their compliance obligations. In March 2020, CGS and the higher education community reiterated these concerns in public comments, alongside a separate letter, requesting a delay of regulatory action regarding Section 117 during the COVID-19 pandemic.