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.
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?
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
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.
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