Portman, Carper, Rubio Applaud Committee Passage of Bipartisan Legislation to Stop Theft of U.S. Research & Intellectual Property by Global Competitors

July 22, 2020 | Press Releases

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH), Tom Carper (D-DE), and Marco Rubio (R-FL) applauded the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee for approving the Safeguarding American Innovation Act, bipartisan legislation to help stop foreign governments, particularly China, 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 addition, the 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. Committee passage of this legislation means Congress is one step closer to safeguarding American innovation.

“I applaud committee passage of this bipartisan legislation, which takes decisive action to safeguard American innovation, hold foreign adversaries like China accountable for their continued actions, and ensure our world-class research enterprise is protected here in America,” said Portman. “I’m pleased that our committee investigation and resulting report has spurred additional action by federal law enforcement to hold China accountable, but we must do everything we can to safeguard American innovation, and that’s what this legislation will do. For too long, foreign adversaries, like China, have exploited the lack of transparency in our education system to steal our taxpayer-funded research and innovation, and the federal government has done little or nothing to stop it. This bill will help us stop foreign governments from stealing our research and innovation while also increasing transparency to ensure that taxpayers know when colleges and universities accept significant foreign funding. We must hold countries that act in bad faith, like China, accountable, and I urge my colleagues to join us in supporting this legislation when it comes up for a vote on the Senate floor.”

“Senator Portman and I recently led an investigation that revealed the troubling ways in which the Chinese government has worked to exploit the open and collaborative nature of the U.S. research community to advance their business and military interests. Today, I couldn’t be more pleased that the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee passed our bipartisan bill to help combat the exploitative practices carried out by foreign governments that we described in our report,” said Carper. “The Safeguarding American Innovation Act aims to protect taxpayer-funded research from foreign governments working to steal it, hold those acting in bad faith accountable, and preserve our economic competitiveness around the world. Protecting U.S. taxpayer-funded research and intellectual property from imminent foreign threats should be a top priority of Congress and I urge my both my Democratic and Republican colleagues to support this common sense bill when it moves to the Senate floor for a vote.”

“I applaud the Committee for approving this bipartisan bill that will help to prevent China, and other hostile foreign actors, from stealing U.S. research that is funded by American taxpayers, as well as ensure there is adequate transparency and reporting requirements for academic research funded by foreign entities,” Rubio said. “Congress must take action to address the Chinese government and Communist Party’s ongoing efforts to undermine American industry and technological advancement with their systematic attempts to steal U.S. intellectual property and trade secrets. The threat posed by China — especially as we race towards a COVID-19 vaccine — remains present, and policymakers at every level must be vigilant in counteracting it.”

NOTE: Portman and Carper, as Chairman and Ranking Member of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), led a year-long investigation into this issue culminating in a bipartisan report and hearing that detailed how American taxpayers have been unwittingly funding the rise of China’s military and economy over the last two decades while federal agencies have done little to stop it. Starting in the late 1990s through its “talent recruitment programs,” China began recruiting U.S.-based scientists and researchers to transfer U.S. taxpayer-funded IP to China for their own economic and military gain. This legislation will ensure that the federal government is taking decisive action to safeguard American innovation. 

This legislation also addresses the findings of PSI’s February 2019 reportwhich highlighted the Department of Education’s lack of enforcement of foreign gift reporting at U.S. colleges and universities, which the department admitted was “historically lax.” This bill gives the department increased authority to enforce foreign gift reporting rules and lowers the reporting threshold to increase transparency and prevent foreign interference on U.S. campuses.

This bipartisan legislation will protect American research and IP from global competitors by:

·        Punishing individuals who intentionally fail to disclose foreign support on federal grant applications, with penalties ranging from fines and imprisonment for not more than five years or both and a five-year prohibition on receiving a federal grant;

·        Strengthening the Student and Exchange Visitor Program by requiring the State Department’s exchange program sponsors to have safeguards against unauthorized access to sensitive technologies and report to State if an exchange visitor will have access to sensitive technologies;

·        Strengthening the State Department’s authority to deny visas to certain foreign nationals seeking access to sensitive technologies when it is contrary to U.S. national security and economic security interests of the United States;

·        Mandating a standardized U.S. government grant process by authorizing the Office of Management and Budget to work with federal grant-making agencies to standardize the grant application process; share information about grantees; and create a U.S. government-wide database of federal grantees; and

·        Lowering the reporting threshold for U.S. schools and universities receiving foreign gifts from $250,000 to $50,000 and giving the Department of Education authority to punish schools that fail to properly report.

The bill text can be found here. Senators Maggie Hassan (D-NH), James Risch (R-ID), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Chris Coons (D-DE), Josh Hawley (R-MO), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), John Barrasso (R-WY), Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-NV), Rick Scott (R-FL), Mike Braun (R-IN), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Martha McSally (R-AZ) have cosponsored the legislation.