WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC), Rob Portman (R-OH), Tom Carper (D-DE), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), James Risch (R-ID), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Chris Coons (D-DE), Josh Hawley (R-MO), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), John Barrasso (R-WY), Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-NV), Rick Scott (R-FL), Mike Braun (R-IN), and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) introduced the Safeguarding American Innovation Act, bipartisan legislation to help stop foreign governments, particularly China, from stealing American taxpayer-funded research and intellectual property developed at U.S. colleges and universities.
Investigations into this issue culminated in a bipartisan report and hearing that detailed how American taxpayers have been unwittingly funding the rise of China’s military and economy over the last two decades while federal agencies have done little to stop it. Starting in the late 1990s through its “talent recruitment programs,” China began recruiting U.S.-based scientists and researchers to transfer U.S. taxpayer-funded IP to China for their own economic and military gain. This legislation will ensure that the federal government is taking decisive action to safeguard American innovation.
This legislation also addresses the findings of PSI’s February 2019 report, which highlighted the Department of Education’s lack of enforcement of foreign gift reporting at U.S. colleges and universities, which the department admitted was “historically lax.” This bill gives the department increased authority to enforce foreign gift reporting rules and lowers the reporting threshold to increase transparency and prevent foreign interference on U.S. campuses.
“American innovation is one of our country’s greatest assets, especially in times of crisis such as this,” said Senator Tillis. “China has been clear: If America can invent it, they will try to steal it. I’m proud to help lead this effort to protect American universities from attempts to steal sensitive information by China and other foreign adversaries.”
This bipartisan legislation will protect American research and IP from global competitors by:
- Punishing individuals who intentionally fail to disclose foreign support on federal grant applications, with penalties ranging from fines and imprisonment for not more than five years or both and a five-year prohibition on receiving a federal grant;
- Strengthening the Student and Exchange Visitor Program by requiring the State Department’s exchange program sponsors to have safeguards against unauthorized access to sensitive technologies and report to State if an exchange visitor will have access to sensitive technologies;
- Strengthening the State Department’s authority to deny visas to certain foreign nationals seeking access to sensitive technologies when it is contrary to U.S. national security and economic security interests of the United States;
- Mandating a standardized U.S. government grant process by authorizing the Office of Management and Budget to work with federal grant-making agencies to standardize the grant application process; share information about grantees; and create a U.S. government-wide database of federal grantees; and
- Lowering the reporting threshold for U.S. schools and universities receiving foreign gifts from $250,000 to $50,000 and giving the Department of Education authority to punish schools that fail to properly report.
The bill text can be found here.