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House Committee Holds Hearing on Balancing Open Science and Research Security

October 8, 2021

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CONTACTS
Christa Wagner, Senior Legislative Analyst

The House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittees on Investigations and Oversight and Research and Technology held an Oct. 5 hearing featuring researchers and administration officials testifying on research security in the federally funded research enterprise.

Subcommittee members and witnesses emphasized the importance of striking the right balance in maintaining open research while addressing foreign government influence in said research.

“Openness in science allows reproduction and replication of work, increasing the reliability of conclusions and building public trust,” stated Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight Chairman Bill Foster (D-Ill.) in his opening statement. He added that openness does come with risks but that “we must not let the solution be worse than the problem.”

Ranking Member Jay Obernolte (R-Calif.) added that Congress needs to be “stewards of the nearly $45 billion that we invest every year in research at academic institutions.”

Subcommittee members inquired about the negative impacts to the research workforce if overly restrictive mitigation measures are employed.

Temple University Laura H. Carnell Professor of Physics Xiaoxing Xi, PhD, a Chinese American scientist who was falsely accused of espionage by the FBI, urged members not to crack down on open research or adopt policies that are solely directed at Chinese scientists. He added that such a policy “does not protect America’s research security. It makes the U.S. less competitive in innovation and less attractive to talents around the world.”

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Vice President for Research Maria Zuber, PhD, added, “U.S. competitiveness depends less on defensive measures than on what we do to strengthen our own capabilities. Congress should increase research funding and channel some of it through initiatives like ARPA-H [Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health] and the new Directorate of the National Science Foundation. The heart of U.S. strategy must be to look ahead and invest in our future.”

Research and Technology Subcommittee Chair Haley Stevens (D-Mich.) and Ranking Member Michael Waltz (R-Fla.) both reiterated the committee’s continued work on striking a balance between open science and enhanced security, citing an AAMC-supported provision in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 that established the interagency Joint Commission on the Research Environment (JCORE) [refer to Washington Highlights, Dec. 12, 2019].

Zuber, who also serves as co-chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, testified that the White House is preparing guidance to implement National Security Presidential Memorandum 33 (NSPM-33), a product of JCORE aimed at further addressing security of federally funded research [refer to Washington Highlights, Aug. 13]. On Sept. 30, the AAMC joined four associations in providing stakeholder feedback to Office of Science and Technology Policy Director Eric Lander, PhD, for consideration in finalizing the NSPM-33 guidance.

Candice Wright, director of science, technology assessment, and analytics at the Government Accountability Office, noted in her opening statement that while research agencies like the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health have agencywide conflict of interest policies, they do not fully address or define conflicts of commitment. In addition to better addressing conflicts of commitment, Wright testified that federal research agencies need to engage more in educating the university community on foreign talent programs.

Zuber emphasized the confusion among applicants regarding what information needs to be disclosed and how to disclose that information in applications to different agencies. She added that universities are stepping up to address research security by educating faculty and providing training opportunities on campus while proactively engaging with federal science and law enforcement agencies. Zuber added that while the relationship with law enforcement agencies is important, “universities aren’t set up to be investigative organizations.”

Several members and witnesses agreed that a better understanding of differences in the culture between law enforcement and academia would be beneficial to communication between the two. NSF Inspector General Allison Lerner added that the agencies’ inspector generals have important roles to play in bridging that communication divide.

Lerner also testified that her office is understaffed for the current volume of cases to be investigated. In questioning, she added that the National Science Foundation for the Future Act (H.R. 2225) would increase her office’s budget by $50 million [refer to Washington Highlights, June 17].

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