DC on T2

Capitol Corner — September 2019

Published monthly as part of the FLC’s DC Perspective content, Capitol Corner focuses on one notable news item pertaining to the T2 community. The focus stems from agency publications, news sites, and DC-central organizations, with original sources, contacts, and links provided. For more information and Corner-related inquiries, please contact dcnews@federallabs.org.

In the latest R&D budget priorities memorandum from the White House, the Trump administration labeled fiscal year (FY) 2021 the dawn of the “Second Bold Era” in science and technology (S&T). As we reported shortly after its release, “for the U.S. to remain a technological superpower in this Era, American research ecosystems will need to also protect ideas and research outcomes.” Put another way in the memo, “new and extraordinary threats which must be confronted thoughtfully and effectively.”

These “new and extraordinary threats” have been frequently mentioned in earlier Capitol Corner coverage, as well as T2 Touchpoint briefs. In January 2018, the Defending U.S. Government Communications Act was introduced in the House. The bill’s text states “China’s defense industry has benefited from integration with a rapidly expanding civilian economy and science and technology sector, particularly elements that have access to foreign technology.” While this particular bill was never signed into law, similar sentiments echoed in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) signed into law for FY 2019. When FY 2019’s NDAA was being drafted, Wisconsin representative Mike Gallagher introduced an amendment to the bill to curb theft of American research and development (R&D) by foreign entities. A revised version of this provision was included in the final version after continued reports of American universities having suspected hotbeds for Chinese espionage. Gallagher’s amendment called for certification of Chinese students studying abroad in America, but the issue of foreign intervention in American T2 isn’t simply an academic issue.

The FY 2019 NDAA also included an amendment from senators Tom Cotton (AR) and Chris Van Hollen (MD). The Senate version of the bill, with the amendment included, focused on a different sector of Chinese theft—particularly from telecommunications companies Huawei and ZTE. This amendment forbade government agencies from purchasing telecommunications items from these two companies, citing a March 2017 violation of export controls as well as the Defending U.S. Government Communications Act’s opening preamble as their reasoning. (Similar moves have been made against the Russian firm Kaspersky for similar activities.) Just last month, the Federal Acquisition Council banned Huawei and ZTE from government networks and contracting vehicles.

On September 16, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) director Kelvin Droegemeier published a “Letter to the United States Research Community.” In this two-page letter, Droegemeier summarized much of what the R&D memo from August aimed for American R&D superpower. “Over the past several years, some nations have exhibited increasingly sophisticated efforts to exploit, influence, and undermine our research activities and environments…United States policies and practices must evolve thoughtfully and appropriately.”

Droegemeier’s first thoughtful and appropriate evolution was to establish the Joint Committee on the Research Environment (JCORE). JCORE was chartered by the OSTP as well as the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC). The NSTC has been responsible for leading-edge developments, including those related to space weather monitoring and artificial intelligence (AI) public-private research partnerships. As such, JCORE includes members from various science agencies, including National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Administrator Jim Bridenstine and National Science Foundation (NSF) Director France Córdova. JCORE also consists of four subcommittees: research security, safe and inclusive research environments, research rigor and integrity, and coordinating administrative research requirements. Each subcommittee is informed by cross-agency interactions between Congress, the National Academies, and the private sector.

As far as the first subcommittee, research security, is concerned, JCORE is coordinating outreach across the government and academia via public meetings to articulate the challenges American R&D faces and how certain facets were compromised by foreign intervention. The Committee is also establishing frameworks for disclosing information in research environments, as well as creating best practices and regulating risk management. These activities will balance security and the American spirit of innovation to best protect domestic interests. According to comments provided to Nature, Droegemeier said JCORE provides “an opportunity to reaffirm the fundamental principles of research, which requires ethical behavior, honesty and integrity. I don’t think any researcher would argue that we want to compromise on these things.”

Droegemeier’s “Letter to the United States Research Community” can be read in full here.

DC on T2