On November 18, the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI) of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee released a staff report on federal agencies’ efforts to protect the U.S. research enterprise from illegal technology transfer and research espionage occurring through foreign talent recruitment activities such as China’s Thousand Talents Plan. The report offers details of prevention activities employed at the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Department of Energy (DOE), the Department of State, the Department of Commerce (DOC), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) as well as a series of recommendations to improve these agencies’ efforts to prevent foreign interference in the U.S. research enterprise. The report can be found on PSI website.
A day later, PSI held a hearing to address the findings of the staff report and to improve upon current federal agency efforts to prevent intellectual property theft and technology transfer through foreign talent recruitment programs. Witnesses included Assistant Director of Counterintelligence at the FBI John Brown, Head of the Office of International Science and Engineering at NSF Rebecca Keiser, Deputy Director for Extramural Research at NIH Michael Lauer, Director of the Office of Science at DOE Christopher Fall, and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Visa Services at the Bureau of Consular Affairs (BCA) Edward Ramotowski.
PSI Chairman Rob Portman (R-OH), Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-DE), and other Members questioned the witnesses on the findings of the staff report and on agency knowledge of Chinese efforts to exploit the U.S. research enterprise. Several salient issues were discussed, such as agency efforts to harmonize security infrastructure and policies, ethics concerns over FBI investigations of international students, potential gaps in the visa control process, and raising awareness of security problems among the academic community. Statements from Portman, Carper, and a video recording of the hearing is available on the PSI website.