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Senate Committee Advances Bill Targeting Foreign Government Influence in Research

July 24, 2020

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CONTACTS
Christa Wagner, Senior Legislative Analyst

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee advanced an amended version of the Safeguarding American Innovation Act (S. 3997) during a committee business meeting on July 22. The bill, aimed at addressing foreign government influence in federally funded research, was advanced by voice vote.

During the business meeting, the committee approved an amended version of the bill introduced by the bill’s original co-sponsors Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Tom Carper (D-Del.). The amendment primarily provided changes to Section 7: Amendments to Disclosures of Foreign Gifts.

The amended bill would make changes to the reporting of foreign gifts under Section 117 of the Higher Education Act, including requiring more detailed reporting; directing  institutions to maintain true copies of gift and contract agreements; and outlining the circumstances under which the Department of Education can act to impose fines on noncompliant institutions. The amendment maintains the reduced threshold of $50,000 for reporting foreign gifts.

The amendment also made technical corrections to the remainder of the bill as introduced on June 18 [see Washington Highlights, June 19]. Briefly, the bill would establish a Federal Research Security Council in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to develop guidance across agencies and create a government-wide database of grantees. This council would be in addition to the interagency working group of federal science, intelligence, and security agencies under the direction of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy established through the AAMC-supported Securing American Science and Technology Act (SASTA) of 2019, passed as part of the FY 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 116-333) [see Washington Highlights, Dec. 12, 2019].

The bill would also establish strict penalties on grantees for committing application fraud, provide the Department of State with the authority to deny visas to certain foreign nationals seeking access to sensitive technologies as defined by the department, and amend Section 117 of the Higher Education Act to lower the reporting threshold and penalize institutions failing to report.

The AAMC joined the Association of American Universities, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, and the American Council on Education in a July 20 letter to committee leadership expressing concerns regarding certain provisions of the bill. The letter specifically identifies concerns with excessive authority provided to the OMB to define research security policies and to the State Department to define rules impacting the entry of foreign scholars into the United States. The letter also shares concerns regarding the text to amend Section 117 of the Higher Education Act, noting the increased burden in reducing the reporting threshold from $250,000 to $50,000.

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