DC on T2

Capitol Corner - May 31, 2018


Published monthly as part of 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.

Earlier this month, Wisconsin representative Mike Gallagher introduced a proposed amendment to the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), an annual defense policy bill usually introduced by summer and passed by fall. The 2018 version of the NDAA—currently valued at $708.1 billion in defense appropriations—promises one of the largest defense budgets since World War II. Gallagher’s amendment, however, doesn’t discuss dollars and cents in detail, instead ensuring that funding for academic research remains a domestic concern. The full text of his proposition, titled “Certification and Authority to Terminate Funding for Academic Research Relating to Foreign Talent Programs,” can be viewed here.

In summary, Gallagher proposes that 180 days after this year’s NDAA is enacted, the Secretary of Defense will submit a plan to “ensure that applicants seeking such funds for educational or academic training or research verify that such funds shall not be made available to any individual who has participated in or is currently participating in a foreign talent or expert recruitment program.” Certification of the domestic nature of these funds should take place no later than one year after the NDAA’s enactment date, but the details of the certification process are not outlined in the full text. (Gallagher has stressed that certification approvals and denials will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.) However, the list of countries affected by this provision is given: China, North Korea, Russia, and Iran. Let’s focus on China.

In January, we reported on the National Science Board’s (NSB) Science and Engineering Indicators brief. Using the report’s data, we concluded that Chinese investment in research and development (R&D) investment increased by 15% from 2000 to 2015, in addition to the increased proportion of R&D spending with respect to China’s gross domestic product (GDP). And although China’s growth hasn’t caused an American second-place finish, China’s boom in increased science and engineering workforce numbers, as well as improved science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) curricula, has become cause for concern.

Other concerns about China’s alleged invasion on American R&D include actual theft at U.S. academic institutions. Approximately 100 American universities have Confucius Institutes, language and cultural education centers funded by the Chinese government that have been suspected hotbeds for espionage. During an April hearing on “Strategic Competition with China,” Florida representative Matt Gaetz said China has a “systemic strategy of intellectual property theft, particularly at college campuses,” with Missouri’s Vicky Hartzler adding that this campaign uses “Chinese nationals such as students or researchers who are studying at U.S. universities and working in U.S. labs.”

These concerns have accompanied whispers that the White House may restrict Chinese STEM student visas, even though China’s Chamber of International Commerce has disputed these claims, including that Chinese students practice “forced technology transfer” from American schools to overseas labs. That said, American aversion to Chinese students and educators has received backlash, with representatives’ statements criticizing these claims and potential visa policy shifts as they contain “irresponsible generalizations that attempt to paint all Chinese students and scholars as spies for China.” This statement also points to Sherry Chen and Dr. Xioaxing Xi, two Chinese-American scientists accused of espionage by the FBI—later having their charges dropped and reputations tarnished.

Criticisms have been voiced against Gallagher’s amendment as well. These issues include:

  • A certification process that, as written, gives too much leeway to the Department of Defense (DoD) in how the requirements are measured, developed, and enforced. This process also needs to be better defined so universities’ funding applications would not be unexpectedly declined.
  • A potential chilling effect against recruiting foreign students and future researchers who could contribute positively to American innovation.
  • Visa policy is not addressed in the amendment, even though that influences the recruitment of foreign students.
  • The amendment, as written, is vague and would lead to confusion if implemented—should include a list of programs under this amendment, not just affected countries, that require certification.

These concerns have split the House floor, with California representative John Garamendi recommending “we put this aside, maybe take it up on the floor or really have it thoroughly vetted by staff and members that are interested in it. I like the concept, but I don’t think it’s going to work and [it will] create enormous confusion at our universities.” The House is still considering its version of the NDAA while the Senate is preparing its own. While a recent House Rules Committee update hasn’t shown a revised Gallagher amendment, the NDAA will need to undergo multiple revisions before fall.

DC on T2