Portman: Safeguarding American Innovation Act Will Empower the Government to Protect our Research Enterprise

June 19, 2020 | Press Releases

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Yesterday, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) discussed the introduction of his new bipartisan Safeguarding American Innovation Act, legislation that will crack down on the theft of intellectual property at federally funded research institutions and universities by China and America’s global competitors in statement for the Congressional Record. Portman 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 is the product of that investigation and 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 report, which 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.

The Congressional Record statement can be found below and here on page S3104.

Mr. President, I am here on the floor to talk about a significant step forward in holding China accountable for not playing by the rules. Today, after months of work, we are introducing bipartisan legislation called the Safeguarding American Innovation Act that will help crack down on the rampant theft of U.S. taxpayer-funded research and innovation at America’s colleges and universities by foreign governments like China. It’s outrageous, and it has to stop.

“At the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which I chair, we conducted a bipartisan year-long investigation in 2019 into how China has used so-called talent recruitment programs, most notably its Thousand Talents Plan, to steal U.S. taxpayer-funded research. The Chinese Communist Party has systematically targeted the most promising U.S. research and researchers, and then paid these grant recipients to take their taxpayer-funded research to China. That research and technology often ends up going directly to China to help fuel the rise of its military and economy. Part of the reason it’s gone on so long, frankly, is because we’ve been asleep at the switch. That’s starting to change in the wake of our Subcommittee investigation.

“Right now, our law enforcement officials and other federal entities are working to hold China accountable for this IP theft problem but are limited in the actions they can take under current law. All of the arrests they’ve made so far have been about peripheral financial crimes like wire fraud and tax evasion, not the core issue of taking American taxpayer-paid research to benefit China. Why? Because they don’t have the legal ability to address the root causes of this problem.

“That changes today. Along with my Democratic counterpart on the Subcommittee, Tom Carper from Delaware, we are introducing the bipartisan Safeguarding American Innovation Act to empower the government to protect our research enterprise while keeping it open and transparent.

“First, our bill makes it a crime failing to disclose their foreign ties on federal grant applications, which, shockingly, it currently isn’t.

“It requires the Office of Management and Budget, OMB, to streamline and coordinate grant-making between the federal agencies so there’s needed accountability and transparency when it comes to tracking the billions of dollars of taxpayer-funded grant money that’s being distributed.

“It also allows the State Department to deny visas to foreign researchers who we know are seeking to steal research and IP by exploiting exemptions in our export control laws. This may surprise you, but the State Department can’t do that now. Career foreign service officers, employees at the State Department, have asked us to provide this authority.

“Our bill also requires research institutions and universities to provide the State Department basic information about the sensitive technologies that a foreign researcher will have access to. And our bill ensures transparency by requiring universities to report any foreign gift of $50,000 or more and empowering the Department of Education to fine universities that repeatedly fail to disclose these gifts.

“Rather than just pointing the finger at China, we ought to be looking at our own government and our own institutions and doing a better job here. Until we start to get our own house in order and take a firmer stance on foreign influence here in this country, we’re not going to see much improvement. That’s what this legislation does. In turn, I think showing that we’re serious about fixing our own vulnerabilities will send a firm but fair signal to China—and other adversaries looking to take advantage of our research enterprise—to change their behavior. I encourage my colleagues to support this bipartisan effort."