The Senate has directed its attention towards competition with China as of late, resulting in activities focusing on research security as an extension of U.S.-China policy. On April 15, the Strategic Competition Act of 2021 (S. 1169) was introduced in the Senate by Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Jim Risch (R-ID), the Chairman and Ranking Member respectively of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The bipartisan bill includes a long list of measures related to competition with China, including issues related to the security of the U.S. research enterprise. One section of the bill controversially increases oversight at academic institutions on foreign gifts (which may include research grants) by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), effectively giving CFIUS the power to suspend or cancel foreign-granted activities at academic institutions if they are deemed harmful to national security concerns. As the bill is still a work in progress, COSSA will monitor the legislation for future updates.
In addition to this legislation, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) held a hearing on April 22 addressing research security in the biomedical research enterprise, especially related to global scientific competition with China. Witnesses included Deputy Director for Extramural Research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Michael Lauer, Acting Director of the Office of National Security at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Lisa Aguirre, Deputy Inspector General for Investigations at HHS Gary Cantrell, and Acting Director of Science, Technology Assessment, and Analytics at the Government Accountability Office (GAO) Candice Wright. The Committee members, led by Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) and Ranking Member Richard Burr (R-NC), all expressed deep concern with the potential threat of espionage and cyberattacks at research institutions and inquired how HHS and NIH are combatting espionage in the research enterprise, especially concerning foreign gift reporting and data transfer threats at U.S. universities. A recording of the hearing is available on the HELP Committee website.