Controversial Research Security Legislation Could Move Forward in COVID-19 Relief Package

The Senate has incorporated the Safeguarding American Innovation Act (S. 3997) into the HEALS Act, the Republican-led Senate version of a new COVID-19 economic relief package (see related article). The Safeguarding American Innovation Act, sponsored by Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Tom Carper (D-DE), is sweeping legislation that aims to tighten the security of the U.S. research enterprise against competing governments, most notably the Chinese government, by imposing restrictions on collaborating with foreign entities. However, the bill has been criticized by many in the research community for being too restrictive and for potentially discouraging foreign scientists from working in the United States.

Some of the controversial parts of the legislation include:

  • Expanding the authority of the U.S. Department of State to reject visa applications from anyone seen as tied to a hostile foreign government.
  • Imposing criminal penalties, including jail time, for scientists who fail to disclose ties to a foreign government.
  • Requiring international research partners to comply with U.S. scientific norms.
  • Establishing a new research security oversight body at the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

The bill follows many of the recommendations listed in a 2019 report produced by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), which Portman chairs. The bill has also been signaled to be “a work in progress” by Carper, which may indicate a willingness to amend the legislation before the full Senate vote. Now that the bill is tied directly to the Senate’s COVID-19 package, it could become a bargaining chip in the negotiations currently underway.

Read COSSA’s HOT TOPIC on research security for more information about recent legislation and other research security actions.

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