The Senate Finance Committee June 5 held a hearing titled, “Foreign Threats to Taxpayer-Funded Research: Oversight Opportunities and Policy Solutions.” The hearing included two panels featuring several federal witnesses and one researcher from a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grantee institution. Federal witnesses were expected to join committee members for a classified briefing in the afternoon to discuss the issue in greater detail.
Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) began his opening remarks by highlighting the U.S.’s world-leading medical research and intellectual property development capacity, but cautioned that there are issues that could make U.S. research vulnerable to foreign threats, including grantees’ failure to disclose foreign financial contributions, espionage, the vetting process for researchers, and breaches in the integrity of peer review.
Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) echoed Chairman Grassley’s sentiments about the strength of the American research enterprise, including the extensive contributions of foreign-born scientists to research accomplishments in the United States. Senator Wyden noted that U.S. research institutions need to protect themselves from foreign threats, but “that doesn’t mean closing the door to or placing undue burdens on the foreign-born students and scientists who make life changing discoveries together with Americans.” Senator Wyden also noted that underinvestment in federal science agencies pose an internal threat to the U.S. research enterprise.
All federal witnesses commented on current interagency communications to assess and act upon foreign threats to research integrity. NIH Principal Deputy Director Lawrence Tabak, DDS, PhD, testified that NIH is currently communicating with 61 grantee institutions about possible cases. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) Chief of Investigative Operations Les Hollie shared that his office is investigating 16 cases brought forth by NIH.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) expressed concern that grantee institutions need to “step up their game” in identifying and addressing risks associated with foreign threats. Cornyn also shared that he expects to introduce the Secure Our Research Act the week of June 10, which would develop an interagency working group “to enhance cyber-security protocols and protect federally funded research from foreign interference, espionage and exfiltration.” This follows the May 30 introduction of the Securing American Science and Technology Act (SASTA, H.R. 3038) in the House of Representatives [see Washington Highlights, May 31].
Joe Gray, PhD, of Oregon Health and Science University, focused his statement on the importance of international collaborations, data sharing, and diversity in the workforce to bolster innovation. He noted that U.S. researchers currently face many challenges in acquiring funding, keeping up with fast-paced research, and in complying with “burdensome requirements for reporting [and] workplace regulations.” He cautioned that additional requirements that “control interactions with foreign nationals will decrease innovation and, in so doing, will diminish the economic power of the United States and will have little impact on foreign misappropriation and misuse of information and ideas.”
Other witnesses in the hearing included HHS Assistant Deputy Secretary for National Security Captain Michael Schmoyer, PhD, and Department of Homeland Security Deputy Assistant Director for Homeland Security Investigations Louis Rodi.