Portman, Rubio Announce HEALS Package Includes Bipartisan Legislation to Stop Theft of U.S. Taxpayer-Funded Research & Intellectual Property by Global Competitors

HEALS Provides Billions of Taxpayer Dollars for COVID-19 Research That Must Be Protected From Theft By Global Competitors

July 28, 2020 | Press Releases

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) announced that the HEALS package of legislation includes the Safeguarding American Innovation Act, bipartisan legislation to help stop foreign governments from stealing American taxpayer-funded research and intellectual property developed at U.S. colleges and universities. There are already troubling reports that China, and other global competitors, may be trying to steal COVID-19 related research. The inclusion of the Safeguarding American Innovation Act will safeguard the billions of taxpayer dollars included in the HEALS package for vaccine, treatment, and other COVID-19 related research and the inclusion of this legislation will help ensure that we are doing everything possible to protect this vital research and to safeguard the investment of the American people. 

Portman and U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), 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 global competitors 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, and other foreign competitors, began recruiting U.S.-based scientists and researchers to transfer U.S. taxpayer-funded IP 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.   

“HEALS will provide billions of taxpayer dollars for vaccine, therapeutic, and other COVID-19 related research. We know China and other foreign actors are actively trying to steal this research. That’s why it’s important that the Safeguarding American Innovation Act has been included in the HEALS package. We need to ensure that research is protected and that we safeguard the massive investment being made by the American taxpayer. And that’s exactly what this legislation will do. The Safeguarding American Innovation Act 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. “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. The inclusion of this legislation in the HEALS package will stop foreign governments from stealing our research and innovation as we make marked investments to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.  It also increases transparency to ensure that taxpayers know when colleges and universities accept significant foreign funding. I’m pleased this legislation has been included in the package, and I’m committed to continue advancing this discussion in a bipartisan way.”   

“I am pleased that the HEALS Act includes our bipartisan bill to stop China, and other hostile foreign actors, from stealing U.S. research funded by American taxpayers and 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 with their systematic attempts to steal U.S. intellectual property and trade secrets. The threats posed by the Communist Party in China — especially as we race toward a COVID-19 vaccine — remain high, and policymakers at every level must be vigilant in countering them.”  

NOTE: 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. 

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 State Department 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 Tom Carper (D-DE), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Marco Rubio (R-FL), 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), Martha McSally (R-AZ), and Mitt Romney (R-UT) have cosponsored the legislation.