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  • Washington Highlights

    Senators Introduce Bill Targeting Foreign Government Influence in Federally Funded Research


    Christa Wagner, Manager, Government Relations

    Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Tom Carper (D-Del.) led a group of bipartisan colleagues in introducing on June 18 the Safeguarding American Innovation Act (S. 3997), a bill to address foreign government influence in federally funded research.

    The new legislation would:

    • Establish a Federal Research Security Council in the Office of Management and Budget, including members of federal research and national security agencies, to develop a uniform grant-making policy, establish guidance for researchers, and create a government-wide database of federal grantees.
    • Penalize applicants for committing federal grant application fraud with fines and/or imprisonment and a five-year prohibition on receiving a federal grant.
    • Require certain cultural exchange program sponsors to have safeguards against unauthorized access to sensitive technologies and report to the Department of State if an exchange visitor will have access to sensitive technologies.
    • Provide the Department of State with the authority to deny visas to certain foreign nationals seeking access to sensitive technologies when it determines “acquisition of those goods, technologies, or sensitive information…would be contrary to an articulable national security interest.”
    • Amend Section 117 of the Higher Education Act to require U.S. schools and universities to report receipt of foreign gifts greater than or equal to $50,000 and allow the Department of Education to fine institutions that fail to properly report.

    In their press release, Sens. Portman and Carper noted that the introduction of the Safeguarding American Innovation Act follows a months-long investigation by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, of which Sens. Portman and Carper are the chair and ranking member, respectively. The subcommittee released an initial bipartisan report in November 2019, Threats to the US Research Enterprise: China’s Talent Recruitment Plans, and held a hearing to discuss the issue and report findings with administration officials [see Washington Highlights, Nov. 21, 2019].

    Other original co-sponsors of the legislation include Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), James Risch (R-Idaho), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-Nev.), Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.).

    The AAMC previously provided feedback to federal agencies on research security, including a Jan. 28 letter to inform the work of the National Science and Technology Council's Joint Committee on the Research Environment [see Washington Highlights, Jan. 31]. The AAMC also joined the higher education community on March 11 comments raising concerns with the Department of Education’s efforts to amend reporting requirements and disclosures of foreign gifts under the Higher Education Act [see Washington Highlights, March 13].