U.S. SENATE – U.S. Senator Martha McSally (R-AZ) this week cosponsored the Safeguarding American Innovation Act, bipartisan legislation to help stop foreign governments, particularly China, from stealing American taxpayer-funded research and intellectual property developed at U.S. colleges and universities.

American taxpayers have been unwittingly funding the rise of China's military and economy over the last two decades while federal agencies have done little to stop it. Starting in the late 1990s through its "talent recruitment programs," China began recruiting U.S.-based scientists and researchers to transfer U.S. taxpayer-funded IP to China for their own economic and military gain. This legislation will ensure that the federal government is taking decisive action to safeguard American innovation.

“For years, American adversaries like China have exploited our unmatched academic research institutions and stolen taxpayer-funded research and intellectual property to strengthen their own militaries and economies,” McSally said. “Our bill shines a light on these bad actors and shields American innovation from theft. This bill will also keep spies out of our schools and ensure federal agencies have the authority to protect our education system from foreign influence.”

This legislation also addresses the findings of PSI's February 2019 report, which highlighted the Department of Education's lack of enforcement of foreign gift reporting at U.S. colleges and universities, which the department admitted was "historically lax." This bill gives the department increased authority to enforce foreign gift reporting rules and lowers the reporting threshold to increase transparency and prevent foreign interference on U.S. campuses.

The bill was introduced on June 18 by Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Tom Carper (D-DE).

"We cannot continue to allow our global competitors to steal taxpayer-funded research and innovation in order to benefit their military and economy. That's why I'm proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation, which takes decisive action to safeguard American innovation, hold countries like China accountable for their actions, and ensure our world-class research enterprise is protected here in America," said Portman. "For nearly two decades, as we detailed in the November 2019 PSI report, the federal government has been asleep at the wheel while foreign governments have exploited the lack of transparency in our education system and bought access and influence on our school campuses. This bill will help us stop foreign governments from stealing our research and innovation while also increasing transparency to ensure that taxpayers know when colleges and universities accept significant foreign funding. We must hold countries that act in bad faith, like China, accountable and I urge my colleagues to join us in supporting this legislation."

This bipartisan legislation will protect American research and IP from global competitors by:

  • Punishing individuals who intentionally fail to disclose foreign support on federal grant applications, with penalties ranging from fines and imprisonment for not more than five years or both and a five-year prohibition on receiving a federal grant;
  • Strengthening the Student and Exchange Visitor Program by requiring the State Department's exchange program sponsors to have safeguards against unauthorized access to sensitive technologies and report to State if an exchange visitor will have access to sensitive technologies;
  • Strengthening the State Department's authority to deny visas to certain foreign nationals seeking access to sensitive technologies when it is contrary to U.S. national security and economic security interests of the United States;
  • Mandating a standardized U.S. government grant process by authorizing the Office of Management and Budget to work with federal grant-making agencies to standardize the grant application process; share information about grantees; and create a U.S. government-wide database of federal grantees; and
  • Lowering the reporting threshold for U.S. schools and universities receiving foreign gifts from $250,000 to $50,000 and giving the Department of Education authority to punish schools that fail to properly report.

The bill text can be found HERE.

###