Blog Archives

Senate Focuses on Research Security, Introduces New Anti-China Provisions

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.

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Posted in Issue 9 (April 27), Update, Volume 40 (2021)

Biden Executive Actions: Immigration and Research Security

On January 20, President Biden issued a presidential proclamation ending several orders from the Trump Administration banning certain individuals from traveling to the United States, primarily, individuals from African countries and countries with large Muslim populations. The proclamation also reverses many Trump-era practices used to aggressively tighten immigration such as restrictions on the visa process and the intrusive screening of individuals’ social media accounts.

At the same time, the Biden Administration has signaled potential actions related to the security of the U.S. research enterprise (see COSSA’s January 2020 and October 2020 Hot Topics for more info). In particular, the Biden Administration has turned its attention to the National Security Presidential Memorandum (NSPM)-33 issued in the waning days of the Trump Administration as a potential roadmap for research security policy. NSPM-33 lists several recommendations to coordinate federal agencies, academic institutions, and researchers in vetting foreign scientists traveling to the U.S. to perform research by collecting harmonized biographical data between agencies. This data would then be managed chiefly by the Department of State and Department of Homeland Security to identify potential security threats. NSPM-33 can be read in full on the Trump White House archive.

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Posted in Issue 3 (February 2), Update, Volume 40 (2021)

GAO Releases Review of Federal Agency Policies on Foreign Interference in Research

On December 17, 2020, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report reviewing the policies at five major federal research agencies intended to secure federally funded research from foreign interference. The five agencies under review, the Department of Defense (DOD), Department of Energy (DOE), National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and National Science Foundation (NSF), were evaluated on their existing policies requiring researchers to disclose foreign conflicts of interest – including non-financial conflicts of interest such as honorary appointments – and their procedures for addressing failures to disclose these conflicts of interest.

Findings from the report showed that most agencies have taken some actions to improve research security, although noticeable gaps existed in the disclosure policies of non-financial conflicts of interest and the disciplinary procedures for failure to disclose conflicts of interest. The report makes nine recommendations to federal agencies to improve research security policies. Each of the agencies receiving recommendations agreed with GAO’s assessment except for NSF, which neither agreed nor disagreed but still identified actions it would take to address the recommendations.

The recommendations are:

  • The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) should issue pending guidance and expedite the guidance process for research security issues.
  • DOD should develop an agency-wide policy on conflicts of interest for grants.
  • DOD should document the procedure to address failures to disclose conflicts of interests.
  • DOE should develop an agency-wide policy on conflicts of interest for grants.
  • DOE should document the procedure to address failures to disclose conflicts of interests.
  • NIH should update their policies to include a definition of non-financial conflicts of interest.
  • NASA should update their policies to include a definition of non-financial conflicts of interest.
  • NASA should document the procedure to address failures to disclose conflicts of interests.
  • NSF should update their policies to include a definition of non-financial conflicts of interest.

COSSA released two HOT TOPIC pieces in January 2020 and October 2020 providing detailed summaries of recent developments in research security policies. The GAO report is available in full on the GAO website.

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Posted in Issue 1 (January 5), Update, Volume 40 (2021)

Congress Struggling to Reach Agreement on COVID-19 Relief, Potentially Delaying August Recess

Congressional leaders continue to negotiate with the White House on what many suspect could be the final COVID-19 relief bill, and the House, Senate and Trump Administration remain far apart on their preferred approaches. While the House passed a relief bill—the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act—in May, the Senate has only recently introduced its counterpart proposal, the Healthcare, Economic Assistance, Liability, And Schools (HEALS) Act. Though the Senate is scheduled to begin its August recess on Friday August 7, policymakers are reportedly pessimistic about reaching a deal before then. Senate leaders are expected to delay the start of the recess in hopes of reaching a deal the following week. While members of the House have already returned home, Representatives could be called back with 24 hours’ notice to vote on a final package.

The Senate’s coronavirus stimulus package, the HEALS Act, includes supplemental appropriations for federal science agencies, notably $15.5 billion for the National Institutes of Health and $3.4 billion for the CDC. The House’s HEREOS Act proposed additional funding for NIH ($4.75 billion), CDC ($2.1 billion), and the National Science Foundation ($125 million), among other agencies. Neither bill includes the Research Investments to Spark the Economy (RISE) Act, a bipartisan bill that seeks $26 billion in relief funding to federal science agencies to support non-COVID university-based research that has been impacted by the pandemic.

The Senate HEALS Act does not include language sought by Census stakeholders, and requested by the Administration, to extend the 2020 Census statutorily required deadlines (see related article). The Census Project, of which COSSA is a member, has worked with various partners to craft a sign-on letter urging the Senate to include language that would extend the deadlines by four months. Interested organizations (not individuals) can sign the letter by August 5.

Finally, the Senate COVID package incorporates the Safeguarding American Innovation Act, a bill seeking to address research security concerns, but itself raising concerns within the scientific community about the approach taken (see related article).

Leadership in the House and Senate will continue to work on a COVID-19 compromise over the coming weeks. COVID relief aside, when Congress returns after Labor Day, lawmakers will have fewer than 20 working days to take action on fiscal year (FY) 2021 appropriations bills before the end of the fiscal year on September 30, after which lawmakers will head home again in advance of the November elections.

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Posted in Issue 16 (August 4), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

Controversial Research Security Legislation Could Move Forward in COVID-19 Relief Package

The Senate has incorporated the Safeguarding American Innovation Act (S. 3997) into the HEALS Act, the Republican-led Senate version of a new COVID-19 economic relief package (see related article). The Safeguarding American Innovation Act, sponsored by Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Tom Carper (D-DE), is sweeping legislation that aims to tighten the security of the U.S. research enterprise against competing governments, most notably the Chinese government, by imposing restrictions on collaborating with foreign entities. However, the bill has been criticized by many in the research community for being too restrictive and for potentially discouraging foreign scientists from working in the United States.

Some of the controversial parts of the legislation include:

  • Expanding the authority of the U.S. Department of State to reject visa applications from anyone seen as tied to a hostile foreign government.
  • Imposing criminal penalties, including jail time, for scientists who fail to disclose ties to a foreign government.
  • Requiring international research partners to comply with U.S. scientific norms.
  • Establishing a new research security oversight body at the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

The bill follows many of the recommendations listed in a 2019 report produced by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), which Portman chairs. The bill has also been signaled to be “a work in progress” by Carper, which may indicate a willingness to amend the legislation before the full Senate vote. Now that the bill is tied directly to the Senate’s COVID-19 package, it could become a bargaining chip in the negotiations currently underway.

Read COSSA’s HOT TOPIC on research security for more information about recent legislation and other research security actions.

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Posted in Issue 16 (August 4), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

House Science Committee Holds Hearing on FY 2021 Research and Development Budget Request

On February 27, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a hearing to review the Administration’s fiscal year (FY) 2021 budget request for research and development (see COSSA’s analysis of the President’s budget request). Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), was the committee’s only witness and discussed the administration’s priorities across federal science agencies.

Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) expressed concern for proposed cuts to research funding at the National Science foundation (NSF), NASA, the Department of Energy, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In her opening statement, she shared that the cuts appear to be driven by an ideology in the administration that “aggressively seeks to undermine faith in science and scientists and to discount expertise at all levels of government and society.” Her fellow Democrats echoed these concerns, particularly around cuts to the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E), the role of OSTP in federal rulemaking, and the prioritization of certain programs at the expense of others within agencies, including human space flight at NASA and computer science at NSF.

Committee Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK) commended Dr. Droegemeier for prioritizing the security of U.S. research and research into so-called “industries of the future”— including artificial intelligence and 5G — in the FY 2021 research and development budget. Republicans inquired about the implementation of the Securing American Science and Technology Act and the activities of the Joint Committee on the Research Environment (JCORE). A recording of the hearing, along with Dr. Droegemeier and Chairwoman Johnson’s open statements are available on the Science Committee’s website. Ranking Member Lucas’ opening statement is available on the Science Committee Republican’s website.

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Posted in Issue 5 (March 3), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

NSF Releases Responses to JASON Research Security Report

On March 2, the National Science Foundation (NSF) released the agency’s response to a December 2019 report providing recommendations and best practices for NSF and NSF’s awardee organizations to address research security concerns while maintaining openness and collaboration in research environments. The report, conducted by the independent scientific advisory group JASON, was commissioned by NSF in 2019 in the wake of concerns about foreign governments interfering with or stealing intellectual property and research findings from U.S. research institutions.

The most notable NSF response is the announcement of the appointment of Dr. Rebecca Spyke Keiser to the newly-created position of Chief of Research Security Strategy and Policy. Keiser had previously served as the leader of NSF’s Office of International Science and Engineering and begins her role as Chief of Research Security Strategy and Policy effective March 2020.

NSF also outlined several other agency actions addressing the JASON report’s recommendations:

  • NSF has clarified the disclosure requirements of foreign and domestic research support in the revised Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG) and now requires the submission of biographical sketches;
  • NSF has investigated incidents related to improper affiliations with foreign talent recruitment programs and coordinated with the NSF Office of Inspector General (OIG);
  • NSF has reached out to NSF awardee institutions to harmonize practices;
  • NSF is using the Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) framework to identify potential risks in research security;
  • NSF has initiated training programs in scientific ethics with the assistance from the Association of American Universities (AAU) and Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) and will pursue further training led by the new Chief of Research Security Strategy and Policy;
  • The National Science Board has reaffirmed NSDD-189, a long-standing policy supporting openness and transparency in fundamental research and discouraging regulations;
  • NSF has engaged with intelligence agencies to assess the risks of foreign influence in research while reaffirming the importance of foreign researchers to the U.S. research enterprise;
  • NSF has met with colleagues from several foreign countries to discuss research partnerships and intends to engage with foreign research communities at the May 2020 Global Research Council annual meeting in South Africa to promote continued international collaboration; and
  • NSF will continue to support programs that foster and develop research talent in the U.S. including Graduate Research Fellowships and the INCLUDES program.

The full response can be found on the NSF website. Read COSSA’s Hot Topic on research security for more information about the JASON report and other recent research security actions.

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Posted in Issue 5 (March 3), Update, Volume 39 (2020)


In response to a request for information (RFI) from the Joint Committee on the Research Environment (JCORE) (see previous coverage), COSSA submitted a collection of resources produced by its member associations relevant to JCORE’s four primary areas of interest: (1) Research Rigor and Integrity; (2) Coordinating Administrative Requirements for Research; (3) Research Security; and (4) Safe and Inclusive Research Environments. As COSSA’s letter states, “Given [the social sciences’] focus on the human condition across multiple scales, it is not surprising that our sciences have a lot to say about the topics of interest to JCORE.” The document is intended to inform the Trump Administration’s work in these important areas as well as communicate the expertise that already exists within many social and behavioral science fields. The letter is available on COSSA’s website.

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Posted in Issue 3 (February 4), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

HOT TOPIC: Foreign Interference in the U.S. Research Enterprise & Policy Responses

COSSA has released the latest edition of our HOT TOPIC series, which are featured articles prepared by COSSA staff members offering insights into timely issues important to the social and behavioral science community. This edition, titled Foreign Interference in the U.S. Research Enterprise & Policy Responses, was written by Ben Goodrich.

In recent years, United States federal research agencies have faced growing concerns of reports of U.S. research and intellectual property being stolen, illegally transferred, or tampered with by foreign governments, notably the Chinese government. These agencies have employed a variety of methods to protect research from foreign interference, including commissioning reports for policy recommendations, requesting information from the research community on potential bad actors, issuing clarifying statements on the federal grant application process, and tightening regulations on various parts of the research infrastructure.

However, some of these policies—which affect universities and researchers from all disciplines—have been criticized both for creating a chilling effect on the open and collaborative nature of the research community and for unjustly singling out researchers of Chinese descent.

This analysis details the latest threats of foreign influence on the U.S. research enterprise as well as actions taken across the federal government to address them. As this is a developing story with agencies continuing to develop policies in response, COSSA will be closely monitoring efforts to harmonize agency policies, address concerns of racial bias against Chinese scientists, and protect the open nature of the U.S. research enterprise.

Read on for the full analysis.

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Posted in Issue 2 (January 21), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

December’s Headlines to Feature Deep Dive on Threats to Research Security

headlines bannerCOSSA members are encouraged to sign up for the monthly COSSA Headlines webchat on Thursday December 12, in which COSSA staff will recap the most important social and behavioral science news from the past month and answer participants’ questions. The December chat will feature a deep dive discussion on understanding the threats to U.S. research security with Toby Smith, Vice President for Policy at the Association of American Universities. Individuals employed by or affiliated with a COSSA member organization or university can register for the webchat here.

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Posted in Update


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