Proposed “Safeguarding American Innovation Act” Would Target Foreign Influence in Research

A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators is sponsoring proposed legislation to stop China and other countries from allegedly stealing federally funded research and using the information to damage U.S. economic and national security. The bill was introduced on June 18, 2020 and is entitled the “Safeguarding American Innovation Act.”

The proposed legislation was drafted and co-sponsored by Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) and Senator Tom Camper (D-DE). It is currently supported by eight Republican Senators and five Democratic Senators.  There is no counter legislation pending in the House of Representatives.

According to Senator Portman, “We cannot continue to allow our global competitors to steal taxpayer-funded research and innovation in order to benefit their military and economy.” 

The legislation contains several key provisions of interest to U.S. Research Institutes and Organizations regarding:

Disclosing Foreign Funding and Relationships: Key purposes of the legislation are to disclose foreign sources of support to academic institutions and to provide information about foreign relationships when applying for federal research grants. The proposed legislation not only provides a fine for not reporting foreign sources of funding, but for the first time, it also criminalizes not reporting the relationships when applying for federal research money grants.  The criminal penalty proposed in the legislation consists of a term of up to five years.

Expanding Funding Disclosure Requirements: Currently funding amounts of $250,000 must be reported if provided by foreign sources and received by academic institutions, but the proposed legislation lowers the funding limit to $50,000 for reporting purposes. New disclosure provisions would be required of those academic institutions that are seeking federal research grants.

Limiting Foreign Graduate Students: The proposed legislation also seeks to limit the number of foreign graduate students and post docs who may be coming into the U.S. in order to access U.S. technology for purposes outside of scientific knowledge. This portion of the legislation has been criticized for potentially blocking scientists from collaborating together. However, the authors of the proposed legislation have indicated that the purpose of this provision is to cull out the bad actors rather than all scientific students. Those applying for graduate school and/or post docs will need to answer several more encompassing questions about their military and political affiliations.

Establishing Federal Research Security Council: Finally, a new body is to be created under this proposed legislation to help provide guidance to academia and the State Department on the provisions and components of the legislation. For instance, this body would aim to define what is considered “sensitive technology” that would have limited access to foreign institutions and personnel. The new body has the title of the Federal Research Security Council and is to be led by the White House Office of Management and Budget.

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