House Passes Deterrent Act Aimed to Tighten Foreign Financial Contribution Regulations

The House of Representatives recently passed the Defending Education Transparency and Ending Rogue Regimes Engaging in Nefarious Transactions (DETERRENT) Act. This legislation aims to tighten regulations on foreign financial contributions to American universities and academics. The act reflects growing concerns about foreign influence in American higher education and research sectors.

One of the act’s central features is the reduction of the reporting threshold for foreign funding. Previously set at $250,000, the threshold would now be $50,000 for most countries, with a zero threshold for nations deemed as “countries of concern,” including China and Iran. This change aims to increase transparency in foreign funding, particularly from nations that might have strategic interests contrary to those of the United States.

The legislation introduces stringent disclosure requirements for individual researchers at universities receiving more than $50 million annually in federal R&D funds. This is an attempt to close loopholes that previously allowed foreign entities to obscure their influence.

The bill’s proponents, like Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC), have cited cases like that of Charles Lieber, who was sentenced earlier this year for lying to federal authorities about his ties to China. Despite its objectives, critics, including some Democrats, argue that the act could have a chilling effect on global scientific cooperation. They fear it may lead to discriminatory xenophobic practices against researchers with ties to the targeted nations.

The American Council on Education has expressed concerns over the act, particularly over provisions requiring waivers from the Department of Education for contracts with countries or entities of concern. “This provision is particularly concerning because the definition of a ‘contract’ in the bill is incredibly broad and therefore will likely capture not only all research agreements, but also student exchange programs and other joint cultural and education programs with Chinese institutions,” the council wrote in a letter to Congress.

The DETERRENT Act will now move to the Senate. The Senate has not introduced companion legislation but various senators have expressed interest in expanding oversight of foreign contracts and gifts to universities. 

Stay tuned to COSSA’s continued Congressional coverage


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