Portman Op-Ed in Cleveland Plain Dealer Highlights Bipartisan Bill to End China’s Theft of U.S. Taxpayer-Funded Research

August 10, 2020 | Portman Difference

Yesterday, in an op-ed published in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Senator Portman discussed his bipartisan Safeguarding American Innovation Act to help stop foreign governments from stealing American taxpayer-funded research and intellectual property developed at U.S. colleges and universities. Recently, both FBI Director Wray and Attorney General Barr have spoken about the threat to American taxpayer-funded research and intellectual property from foreign governments, particularly China, which would be addressed by this legislation. In fact, FBI Director Wray announced that the FBI is opening a new China-related investigation every 10 hours with around 2,500 open counterintelligence investigations across the country.  In additionthe National Institutes of Health (NIH) has reported that 54 scientists have resigned or been fired as a result of a NIH investigation into American taxpayer-funded grant recipients’ failure to disclose financial ties to foreign governments, particularly China. In fact, according to the NIH investigation, more than 90 percent of the scientists had undisclosed ties to China.  

There are already troubling reports that China, and other global competitors, may be trying to steal COVID-19-related research. The Safeguarding American Innovation Act, which passed the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee last month, will help prevent this from happening. For that reason, it was recently announced that this legislation has been included in Senate Republicans’ HEALS coronavirus rescue package.

The op-ed can be viewed here and excerpts are below: 

An Arrest in Cleveland Shows How China Breaks the Rules on Research

Senator Rob Portman

Cleveland Plain Dealer

August 9, 2020

The coronavirus has challenged our country in unprecedented ways. To overcome this crisis, we are looking in part to our world-class research institutions to help develop treatments and vaccines for this disease. But these places of discovery and innovation are also prime targets for thieves.

In May, we were shocked to learn that, in Northeast Ohio, a researcher previously affiliated with the Cleveland Clinic was allegedly stealing research from the Clinic’s labs and taking it to China. According to the Department of Justice, this researcher and his research team received more than $3.6 million in U.S. taxpayer-funded grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), but hid that he was a dean at a Chinese university.

As chair of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, I led a bipartisan yearlong investigation last year into how the Chinese Communist Party has used so-called talent recruitment programs, most notably its Thousand Talents Program, to steal U.S. taxpayer-funded research to fuel the rise of China’s military and economy over the past two decades.

Every year, federal grant-making agencies distribute more than $150 billion in U.S. taxpayer funds for research. These funds are then allocated to our research institutions in the form of grants. In most cases, this system works well. But we found a troubling pattern where foreign governments like China have systematically targeted the most promising U.S.-based researchers, recruited them to talent programs like Thousand Talents, and paid them to take their American taxpayer-funded research to Chinese universities. While stealing this research is bad, what’s worse is that it is not taken for academic purposes. Instead, according to a State Department witness at our Senate hearing last November, there is a clear link between the research being taken from American labs and the latest advancements in China’s military and its economy.

I recently introduced bipartisan legislation called the “Safeguarding American Innovation Act” to end this practice and ensure that federal grant recipients are held accountable for hiding their foreign ties on federal grant applications. It will also reform the foreign researcher visa application process, require more safeguards on sensitive research, and help us better track where our grant money is going. The bill was approved by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee unanimously.

By passing this legislation, we can hold the Chinese Communist Party accountable and put an end to their theft of our taxpayer-funded research.