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  • Washington Highlights

    Research Security Bill Reaches Senate Floor for Amendment Consideration


    Christa Wagner, Manager, Government Relations

    The U.S. Senate began floor consideration of the Endless Frontier Act on May 18. This follows the bill’s passage by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on May 12 [refer to Washington Highlights, May 14].

    Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), co-lead of the Endless Frontier Act, introduced an amendment in the nature of a substitute at the start of Senate consideration. The amendment, the United States Innovation and Competition Act of 2021 (USICA), combined the Commerce Committee-passed bill with new provisions aimed at addressing global competitiveness in research and development with input from several other Senate committees.

    “The U.S. Innovation and Competition Act of 2021 will jumpstart American competitiveness and make one of the most significant government investments in American innovation and manufacturing in generations,” he said in a press statement.

    Included in the broader package are two committee-approved provisions that aim to address research security that would impact grantees of federally funded research.

    The Strategic Competition Act of 2021 is included as Division C and aims to address U.S. relations with China, including a provision to require the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) to review any proposed gifts and contracts of $1 million or more to U.S. research institutions [refer to Washington Highlights, April 23]. The Senate Banking Committee provided Section 5212 of the USICA, which would modify Division D by preventing CFIUS from reviewing higher education grants and contracts that are not considered a covered transaction under the Defense Production Act. The Banking Committee provision works to address concerns raised previously by the AAMC and other higher education groups about expanding the role of CFIUS.

    Division D includes a modified version of the Safeguarding American Innovation Act that passed out of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC) on May 12 [refer to Washington Highlights, May 14]. The text included in the USICA limits the scope of the authority granted to the State Department to deny visas and restricts the new authority to a two-year pilot program, a change from the bill as originally approved by HSGAC. Members of the higher education community, including the AAMC, previously raised concerns that certain sections of the bill were “overly broad and would harm American science and international collaboration without improving national security.” The new text does maintain the $50,000 threshold for foreign gifts reporting, another concern the higher education community shared with HSGAC, and adds a provision to report gifts with an “undetermined monetary value.”

    Division F of the USICA incorporates new provisions from the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, including a provision aimed at ensuring that the sequencing, storage, collection, and analysis of human genetic information “is conducted in a manner that appropriately considers national security risks, including national security implications related to potential misuse of such data.” The provision would require the National Institutes of Health to work with other relevant agencies to develop a risk assessment framework for grantees and provide relevant updates to data access and sharing policies related to human genomic data and national security risks within two years of the framework’s development.

    Senators have filed more than 200 amendments to the bill for possible consideration over the next 10 days before the Senate is expected to take a recess for Memorial Day. If the USICA does pass the Senate, the House and Senate would need to pass identical legislation before the president can sign the bill into law. The House of Representatives could pass the Senate-approved legislation or conference with the Senate to resolve differences between the USICA and the alternative legislation currently under consideration in the House, the National Science Foundation for the Future Act (H.R. 2225) [refer to Washington Highlights, May 14].