Michele Clause Farquhar graduated from Duke with a degree in Public Policy Studies (PPS) in 1979. She is Office Managing Partner for the Washington, D.C. office of Hogan Lovells LLP, an American-British law firm, with a career of experiences from the White House to the FCC and private legal practice. Read a Q&A with Michele below:
What is the most interesting work or highlight so far in your career?
I’ve enjoyed opportunities where I’ve been exposed to high-profile and fast-paced environments or contributed to cutting-edge new developments.
I loved the atmosphere and challenges at my two PPS internships at ABC News and the White House Press Office, followed by a position on the Carter-Mondale re-election campaign and the opportunity to work on the first two prototype issues of the USA Today newspaper after President Carter lost his reelection bid. Having worked at Good Morning America at ABC, it was fascinating to join the Gannett team trying to create a print version of the popular morning news show.
As Chief of the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau at the FCC during the Clinton Administration, I led teams implementing some of the first FCC spectrum auctions and the seminal 1996 Telecommunications Act, as well as other innovative regulatory policies.
Most recently at Hogan Lovells, I’ve assisted several satellite companies in their novel effort to monetize the transition of satellite spectrum to the FCC for 5G use, which has already raised $80 billion for the U.S. Treasury earlier this year.
What are you most proud of in your career to date?
I’m proud of having had the opportunity to serve in public and private sector roles where I could help bring new communications technologies to the broader public, and expand access to underserved communities and public safety users.
Separately, I’m very proud of my volunteer alumni work for Duke, starting with launching the ongoing Partnership in Education program with Ludlow Taylor Elementary School through the Duke Club of Washington 30 years ago, as well as serving as President of the Duke Alumni Association (with a focus on encouraging community service by the local clubs).
What is a story/example you tell others about the importance of the work you do?
In 2008, Congress directed the railroad industry to implement positive train control (PTC) to improve safety and prevent train accidents. I was hired to assist the freight railroad industry in handling many of the implementation challenges, including identifying and purchasing spectrum, getting the needed FCC approvals for the transactions, securing many FCC rule waivers for this novel safety service, working with the FCC, the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation, Native American tribes, and state historic preservation officers to expedite approvals for more than 20,000 trackside antennas, and addressing other issues to enhance rail safety through communications technology. There was no road map for the companies or the regulators, but the major stakeholders came together and got the job done.
Why does public policy matter in 2021 and beyond? How has it evolved (if you think it has)?
Public policy matters because we need to protect and defend the public interest as we confront new and emerging health and safety, economic, cybersecurity and social media threats. In the past there was a greater sense that policymakers could command and control their environment, whereas now policymakers are often playing catchup on so many fronts. Policy has struggled to keep up with and identify the costs and benefits of new technology in particular, including when and how to intervene in emerging areas of concern.
How would you describe Sanford’s contribution to public policy over the past 50 years?
Sanford graduates have secured leadership roles in many fields and hold important national, state and local government positions. They’ve been influential, contributing to the public policy discourse at the national level and increasingly at the international level. Likewise, Sanford School professors have made important contributions across many fields, introducing new data and research with a measurable impact on public policy decision making.
What is one highlight memory you have at Duke? At Sanford?
While working for the Chronicle, I interviewed Terry Sanford a couple times while he was president. His warm and friendly manner and engaging personality put me right at ease, and I remember being so impressed by his insights about the school’s role in our lives.
Our PPS summer internship classes at the Washington Post newsroom were particularly memorable, taught by famous columnists and journalists.
What would you say to a current student at Sanford – a word of advice or something you wish you knew when you were graduating?
I would tell current students that serving the broader public interest matters, and that they should strive to make a difference in people’s lives even on a small scale. I didn’t appreciate that achievements on smaller projects can make a big difference, both by creating new models and by seeding your own motivation to have an even larger impact. Engage with others on a common passion, and you can find your own voice and leadership potential.
What is the most important skill that policy students should learn?
It is important to question and distrust conventional wisdom, and to find tools to better understand and gauge the scope and impact of our problems and decisions. Likewise, learning to ask the right questions of experts in other fields will help us assess how areas will intersect and overlap in the future.
Terry Sanford implored students to ‘stand for something.’ What do you stand for?
Last week I received a nice email from one of my partners: “Thanks, by the way, for all of the effort you’re putting into being OMP, particularly your focus on inclusivity, keeping people informed, and soliciting others’ views.” These are definitely guideposts in my own decision making, and I’m also very focused on building community and encouraging training and mentoring of the next generation.
Michele Clause Farquhar’s recent accomplishments include receiving the Charles A. Dukes Alumni Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service, three Federal Communications Bar Association Distinguished Service awards, the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) Presidential Award, and a black belt in taekwondo.