FOIA Request: Records of the U.S. Department of Education’s Communications with Higher Education Industry Lobbyists and Investigated Universities

AgencyDepartment of Education
TypeFOIA Request
IssueChina InitiativeForeign Gifts
TrackingDFI FOIA No. 100-3-23
DateFeb 27, 2023

On December 27, 2022, the Department announced its proposal to shift Section 117 data collection and management enforcement responsibilities from the Office of the General Counsel to the Office of Federal Student Aid. This policy was first publicly announced by higher ed's chief lobbying organization, the American Council on Education ("ACE") in August 2022. In the same announcement, ACE announced the Department's cessation of its ongoing civil investigations into universities for massive historical non-compliance with Sec. 117 (which requires colleges and universities to disclose qualifying foreign gifts and contracts biannually to the Department). Beginning in 2019, the Department initiated new Sec. 117 enforcement efforts, including initiating civil investigations of universities which led to the revelation of more than $6.5 billion in previously undisclosed foreign gifts and contracts to universities. The Department of Justice and FBI have warned repeatedly of China's ongoing efforts to access America's critical innovation and research products through "soft targets" such as our universities. The Department's proposed shift of Sec. 117 enforcement responsibilities would result in severe diminishment of the Department's statutory enforcement obligations and presents unacceptable national security risks to the American people. DFI's FOIA request is for records related to the Department's decision-making regarding its proposal and its communications with ACE and each university previously investigated by the Department for Sec. 117 compliance issues.