Foreign Government Talent Recruitment Programs Hearing

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Foreign government talent recruitment programs targeting US-based researchers are under the Senate's microscope.

Here’s your opportunity to inform Tuesday’s US Senate hearing on China’s talent recruitment program, featuring witnesses from federal science-funding and law enforcement agencies. The hearing will address how foreign governments such as China are using talent recruitment programs as part of their efforts to build their science, technology, and innovation ecosystems.

Due to allegations that certain talent recruitment programs require participants to violate US science-funding agency policies, some Members of Congress, federal science-funding agencies, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy are taking actions that have the potential to reshape the nature of US fundamental research.

What evidence-based questions should Senators who will be attending the hearing next week ask witnesses? What do they need to know in order to respond constructively and justly to efforts by foreign governments to improperly acquire US science and technology (S&T) assets, while at the same time protecting the free and open exchange of information and international participation in the US S&T enterprise, practices that have served our country so well? How can federal officials address this issue without racially profiling Asian American researchers?

This is your one-stop-shop to learn about these issues, review and submit sample questions or personal stories that can help inform the hearing, or otherwise provide objective feedback for lawmakers.

Provide the Senate with objective statements, evidence-based questions, and personal stories about science and security, talent recruitment, and fundamental research.

Hearing details

Main topics: Science and security, foreign government talent recruitment programs, fundamental research

What: Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations hearing titled: “Securing the US research enterprise from China’s talent recruitment plans.”

Who: Witnesses are John Brown, Assistant Director, Counterintelligence Division, Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Department of Justice; Rebecca L. Keiser, Ph.D., Office Head, Office of International Science and Engineering, National Science Foundation; Michael S. Lauer, M.D., Deputy Director for Extramural Research, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; The Honorable Christopher Fall, Ph.D., Director, Office of Science, U.S. Department of Energy; and Edward J. Ramotowski, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Visa Services, Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. Department of State

When: Tuesday, November 19th, 2019 at 10:00am ET

Where: SD-342, Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington, DC / Webcast

Nonpartisan analysis and research

8 sample questions for lawmakers to ask witnesses. Please share yours for lawmakers.

Dr. Lauer, foreign government talent recruitment programs, such as China’s Thousand Talents Program, have been cited by the US intelligence community and the National Institutes of Health Advisory Committee to the Director in connection with violations of NIH policy. In December 2018, the NIH Advisory Committee to the Director Working Group for Foreign Influences on Research Integrity reported that “one key qualification of [China’s Thousand Talents Program’s] members is access to intellectual property.”

Furthermore, Dr. Lauer, you have stated that the NIH “…has seen contracts that say all the intellectual property that this scientist generates must stay in China and cannot be reported to their American university.”

The only mention of intellectual property on the English-language Thousand Talents website says that “the ownership of intellectual property right shall be clearly defined.”

Dr. Lauer, exactly how common is it for foreign government talent recruitment program agreements between foreign entities and taxpayer-supported researchers – and specifically China’s Thousand Talents Program contracts – to include a clause that requires recruits to keep intellectual property from US universities? Please explain the scope of this problem, and the related evidence, so that we can understand the complete picture.

Follow-up: Drs. Keiser and Fall, please answer the same question based on what has been found at your agencies.

Dr. Lauer, foreign interference in US research is being addressed by this Congress, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the US intelligence community, and federal science-funding agencies. Last week, your colleague at the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Jodi Black, stated “that NIH had identified ‘at least 120 scientists at 70 institutions’ that had in some way failed to ‘fully disclose substantial contributions from other organizations, including foreign governments,’ failed to disclose financial conflicts of interest, diverted proprietary information, or sent information gleaned by participating in the peer-review process to other countries.

Are those numbers still accurate, and if not, what are the updated numbers? Is this the full spectrum of allegations that are being brought against researchers? What proportion of NIH funds has this cohort received?

Follow-up: Dr. Lauer, when you were asked about what stands out in these cases by Science Magazine, you reportedly said that of the researchers alleged to have breached NIH policy, “most are ethnically Chinese, although some of our more serious cases are not ethnically Chinese.”

What evidence-based assurances can you give the research community that policies are being enforced equally across all US taxpayer-sponsored researchers, and that researchers of Chinese descent are not being targeted?

Dr. Lauer, the National Institutes of Health has identified three primary areas of concern regarding foreign interference: (1) Diversion of intellectual property (IP) to other countries; (2) sharing of confidential information in grant applications by peer reviewers; and (3) failure to disclose resources provided by other countries.

How many confirmed violations has the NIH detected in each of these three categories? How many of the violators in each category were foreign nationals vs. US citizens?

Follow-up: Drs. Keiser and Fall, similarly, please describe the foreign interference landscape from your agencies’ perspectives, providing up-to-date data and evidence.

In his July appearance before Congress, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier, was asked about foreign interference in US research, and breaches of federal science-funding agency policies, which are intended to protect research integrity. Dr. Droegemeier responded, in part:

“…We don’t want to stigmatize individuals who are coming from other countries. … Our doors are open with the important caveat that you come here legally, you come here through the front door, and also…you act with integrity and uphold the values which are fundamental to the research process itself. If you’re coming here from another country, or even if you’re here from the US – you’re a citizen – and you’re not acting with integrity, you don’t belong in the research enterprise…”

US science-funding agencies like the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, and Department of Energy sponsor fundamental research, which galvanizes US science and technology leadership.

Drs. Keiser, Lauer, and Fall, please describe how threats to research integrity have evolved, with regard to both foreign- and US-born researchers, and whether the integrity of US research is at greater risk today than it was 5 or 10 years ago.

Follow-up: Mr. Brown, Mr. Ramotowski, do you both concur? Please explain.

In his letter about foreign interference in US research dated September 16th, 2019, the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier, wrote that his office will be 1) leveraging its ability to convene science-funding agencies and 2) “holding meetings at academic institutions across the Nation to converse with researchers and students on matters of research security” over the next few months.

This is all to develop balanced policy approaches to address protecting US research while at the same time not harming fundamental research in the US, which benefits greatly from the free and open exchange of ideas and international participation.

Would all five witnesses please describe the nature of your agencies’ interactions with the Office of Science and Technology Policy. What has been beneficial? What needs to be improved?

Follow-up: Do your agencies have a similar plan to sit down with practicing researchers and students at colleges and universities to discuss policy approaches to foreign interference in US research?

Drs. Keiser, Lauer, and Fall, your science agencies all sponsor fundamental scientific research. Fundamental research is conducted to answer questions about our world and explore what is possible, and leads to groundbreaking technologies like the Internet, solar energy, and vaccines. Historically, US fundamental research has thrived in large part thanks to the free and open exchange of ideas and international participation.

The US Code of Federal Regulations defines fundamental research as “research in science, engineering, or mathematics, the results of which ordinarily are published and shared broadly within the research community, and for which the researchers have not accepted restrictions for proprietary or national security reasons.” It also states that “‘technology’ or ‘software’ that arises during, or results, from fundamental research is intended to be published to the extent that the researchers are free to publish the ‘technology’ or ‘software’ contained in the research without restriction.”

Can researchers funded by your agencies collaborate with researchers in China on fundamental research without fear of undue scrutiny? Please explain.

Follow-up: Mr. Brown, Mr. Ramotowski, do you both concur? Please explain.

In 1985, during the Cold War, President Reagan issued National Security Decision Directive 189, which set “national policy for controlling the flow of science, technology, and engineering information produced in federally-funded fundamental research at colleges, universities, and laboratories.”

Fundamental research was defined as “basic and applied research in science and engineering, the results of which ordinarily are published and shared broadly within the scientific community, as distinguished from proprietary research and from industrial development, design, production, and product utilization, the results of which ordinarily are restricted for proprietary or national security reasons.”

The directive also stated that “to the maximum extent possible, the products of fundamental research remain unrestricted.”

Would all five witnesses please explain whether they believe this policy should be revised?

Dr. Fall, the Department of Energy has banned its personnel from participating in the talent recruitment programs of China, Iran, North Korea, and Russia.

The DOE’s definition of a foreign government talent recruitment program is concerned with DOE personnel transferring their knowledge and expertise to a foreign country in exchange for compensation like “cash, research funding, honorific titles, career advancement opportunities, or promised future compensation.”

Dr. Fall, I understand the need to protect sensitive data, but why would it be wrong for DOE personnel to leverage their knowledge and expertise to, for example, help researchers in China understand science that has already been published in the open academic literature? Why is DOE enacting such broad-brush policy?

Follow-up: Is DOE planning on banning personnel from additional countries’ talent recruitment programs? Which countries; why or why not?

Follow-up: Dr. Fall, DOE is also planning to “restrict international collaboration on certain ‘emerging research areas and technologies.’” Can you explain how you plan on doing this in a manner that does not slow the pace of scientific advances?

More sample questions will be added as objective contributions are received from the science community. Last updated Friday 11/15/19 6:00pm ET.

Quick reads

Foreign-born students and workers in the US science and engineering enterprise – National Science Board (NSB) Science and Engineering Indicators Policy One-pager

Export controls: New challenges – Congressional Research Service (CRS) In Focus

The rise of China in Science and Engineering – NSB Science and Engineering Indicators Policy One-pager

Research productivity of Chinese “Young Thousand Talents” – International Higher Education One-pager

Confucius Institutes in the US – CRS In Focus

Deep dives

Research collaboration in an era of strategic competition – Center for Strategic and International Studies Report

Science and engineering labor force: Characteristics of foreign-born scientists and engineers – NSB Science and Engineering Indicators Special Report

Considerations for maintaining US competitiveness in quantum computing, synthetic biology, and other potentially transformational research areas – GAO Report

Fostering integrity in research – National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Report

Improvements needed to prevent unauthorized technology releases to foreign nationals in the US – Government Accountability Office Report

Lived experience testimonies

We received personal stories about the importance of foreign-born researchers and international science. Please share yours for lawmakers.

I am a Hispanic immigrant, moved to the United States in 1982. In 1989 I received a PhD in Statistics and Animal Breeding, and joined the faculty in Statistics at ISU in 1990. Since then, I have mentored the doctoral work of 24 students (at least half of them, American), taught class for thousands of other students, attracted approx. $30M in sponsored research funding to Iowa, was elected member of the National Academy of Medicine and was honored with fellowships from most major statistical organization in the US and abroad. Without foreign-born researchers, the entire system of higher education in the United States would collapse in a minute.

Non-US citizens and international collaborations are essential to innovation and progress within the U.S. scientific community. I am a PhD candidate in biomedical engineering at the University of Virginia. I work with numerous non-US citizens who contribute greatly to the work that I do. A postdoctoral researcher in our lab is a citizen of Iran and is working here on a visa. He completed his PhD at Tulane University and is now working as a postdoctoral researcher at UVA. He is pursuing novel research to identify more effective treatments for diabetes. Additionally, our lab collaborates with a company based in Sweden that allows us to develop and test a novel drug to accelerate diabetic wound healing. Our research and the future of medical therapies would suffer tremendously without the benefit of international talent and collaboration.

This information is to give background information about the professoriate in the mathematical sciences. All numbers following, are for the period July 1, 2015 through June 30, 2016, and are as reported in In the mathematical sciences, 1921 PhDs were awarded by 279 doctoral-granting departments in the US. The mathematical sciences includes mathematics and applied mathematics, as well as statistics and biostatistics. The proportion of PhDs awarded to US citizens is at a six-year high, 49% (937). While this is a 7% increase from last year, it is the same percentage as in fall 2010–11. Non-US citizen counts decreased 4% to 984 from 1,021 last year. While this is the first year-to-year drop in six-years the non-US citizen count has increased 16% over that in 2010–11.

About 20 years ago, an interdisciplinary research group at Iowa State University developed a new way to analyze and design large electric power systems: The new design incorporates nonlinear elements into the formerly linear world of power systems design using a mathematical theory known as ‘normal forms’. This approach was approved by the IEEE about 10 years ago, and is now being used by many US utilities. It makes stressed systems more stable and reliable and thus supports important safety considerations for our national infrastructure. At this moment, researchers are incorporating statistical elements into this design model to account for alternative sources of generation, such as sun or wind, which are not always available. Key investigators on these projects were engineers born in India, Egypt, and Chile, with substantial support from German mathematicians. IEEE stands for the US ‘Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’. It is the world’s largest technical professional organization dedicated to advancing technology for the benefit of humanity, with US headquarters and a global presence of seven international offices.

I came to the US in 1982 from New Zealand after obtaining my PhD in Biochemistry from Massey University, New Zealand. I came for additional training in the sciences, and in 1988 I was hired to the faculty of Iowa State University. I rose through the ranks and am currently the Frances M. Craig Professor of Biochemistry at Iowa State University. I became a US citizen and my research program has been continuously funded since 1988 by the National Science Foundation, the US Department of Energy, the US Department of Agriculture or the National Institutes of Health. Currently I am serving at the National Science Foundation, as a Division Director in the Biological Sciences Directorate. In the past 30 years I have trained and mentored over 50 PhD and MSc graduates, who have matriculated from Iowa State University. And through thais body of work, my group has published over 130 peer reviewed research manuscripts. During this period, I have had the pleasure of collaborating with colleagues from Japan, Korea, France, the United Kingdom, India, New Zealand, and Australia.

I am immigrant to this country who is teaching, doing research and owns a small biotechnology company. Over the past 20 years. my research efforts as faculty member and biotechnology CSO have brought in $20 million in grant money to the State of Iowa. I was the Principal investigator or company CSO responsible for bringing in $12 million. For the remainder, I contributed as a co-Principal investigator. Most of this money has moved into the Iowa economy through wages and taxes. I hope contribute a lot more to the economy as developments in my company move into the market.

I am a Professor of Mathematics at Rice University. I was born in Central America, and came to the USA for college. I received a BA from Harvard and a PhD from Berkeley. I’ve been at Rice University for the last 10 years, and have supervised 6 doctoral students and, all of whom are US citizens, as well as 8 post-doctoral scholars, 6 of whom are US citizens. Several of these students and post-docs have continued in academia, and are training the next generation of STEM students. Others have moved into important industrial positions (data science, medical fields). While my research has been largely theoretical, it has found application in the construction of cloud storage systems. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities I have been afforded in the USA, and expect to continue to contribute to the development of its STEM workforce.

Journalism and science community correspondence

Letters and press clips

Letter to US federal science leadership, “Balancing US security and an open, collaborative scientific environment

Response from US federal science leadership, “Letter to the US research community

Scientists seek clarity amid US security push – FYI: Science policy news from AIP piece

The science security threat – at gathering of university research officers, federal agency officials document foreign governments’ efforts to persuade scientists to engage in academic espionage – Inside Higher Ed piece

Peer pressure: 60 science groups call for end to Washington’s crackdown on foreign-born researchers – South China Morning Post piece

FBI sees universities as more helpful in foreigner crackdown – Times Higher Education piece

Vast dragnet targets theft of biomedical secrets for China – New York Times piece

NIH reveals its formula for tracking foreign influences – Science piece

DOE barring researchers from rival nations’ talent programs – FYI: Science policy news from AIP piece

Influential Senator asks NSF for data on threat from foreign influences – Science piece

Prior Congressional hearings

Videos of Members of Congress engaging with expert witnesses on science and security

Sen. Roy Blunt (R, MO) and NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins agree that while ensuring US research integrity is critical, so are diversity, inclusion, and the contributions of foreign-born researchers to US S&T – scroll to 40:36 mark

Representative Mikie Sherrill (D, NJ-11) seeks to learn from NSF Director Dr. France Córdova and NSB Chair Dr. Diane Souvaine about how to mitigate the threat of research espionage by foreign powers – exchange

Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R, OH-16) and Dr. Córdova discuss how to strike the right balance regarding the protection of US research assets – exchange

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R, TN) and Sen. Michael Bennet (D, CO) raise the issue of foreign interference in NIH research with Dr. Collins the day after he had written to more than 10,000 NIH grantee institutions about the issue – scroll to 23:07 mark

Sen. Ben Sasse (R, NE) and Bill Priestap, FBI Counterintelligence Division Assistant Director, reach an understanding that many researchers who are foreign nationals from China know nothing of research espionage efforts – scroll to 1:34:55 mark

Foreign threats to taxpayer-funded research: Oversight opportunities and policy solutions – Senate Finance Committee hearing, 6/5/19

China’s non-traditional espionage against the US: The threat and potential policy responses – Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, 12/12/18

Congressional proposals

Bipartisan bills

Securing American Science and Technology, amended to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 (H.R.2500 / S.1790) as Section 1089, and modeled after H.R.3038

The Secure American Research Act of 2019, S.2133

The Office of Critical Technologies and Security Act, H.R.618 / S.29

Engage and take action!

Contribute your nonpartisan, objective statements and questions so that Congress is provided with an appropriate knowledge-base. We will collate your submissions and post them here - anonymously - as part of this resource for policymakers.