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 aid; prime tax policies to support graduate education; promote the U.S. through international graduate education and research; advance research and innovation; and support graduate student success and wellbeing. New and updated corresponding policy briefs for the agenda on maximizing Pell grants, how graduate students finance their education, and Optional Practical Training are available here.
Biden Announces Dept. of Ed Officials, Progress on Cabinet Confirmations
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
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
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 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.