The Trump administration is keeping a closer eye on scientists who conduct research funded by foreign sources in an attempt to better protect national security and American interests.
One of the administration’s key goals is to encourage better disclosure of foreign entanglements by individual researchers, an area currently of major concern as universities have fired at least a dozen scientists for allegedly stealing research on behalf of China.
The ability of foreign-tied actors to exploit the American research system was a key topic in a summit held by the White House this week through the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Kelvin Droegemeier, the director of the OSTP, convened researchers from various government agencies to update them on progress made by Joint Committee on the Research Environment (JCORE), a committee he created to address integrity in the scientific community.
That’s a wrap on the JCORE Summit! Full summary to be posted on https://t.co/NsTKFIqCaf. We look forward to sustained engagement with the multisector #USResearch community on JCORE priorities and ensuring American leadership in science and technology! pic.twitter.com/m5vvFPzgEQ
— White House OSTP (@WHOSTP) November 6, 2019
Droegemeier, a Trump-appointee, stressed that the science community relies on self-disclosure of foreign-funding and other international ties by researchers. This means the leadership at government agencies must double-check to make sure disclosures are being done properly.
“Like Reagan said, trust and verify,” Droegemeier told the Daily Caller. “There has to be some verification in there to make sure that people are following the rules.”
The summit opened with a panel of top researchers from the State Department, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the National Security Administration (NSA). Each addressed how their agencies are working to prevent inappropriate foreign influence on research.
The panelists agreed that sharing scientific research with other countries is important — and Deborah Frincke, the director of research at the NSA specifically warned against becoming “too nationalist” — but also recognized that researchers have an obligation to protect national secrets and uphold American standards of scientific integrity.
“We have to make sure that there is not a foreign entanglement that might be used to leverage [a researcher],” Frincke explained.
Marcia Bernicat, a researcher in the State Department, highlighted the administration’s work to ensure scientists who come to the U.S. on visas are properly vetted.
“If an individual does not properly explain why they are coming into the U.S. or who is funding them … they could lose research status,” she asserted.
The JCORE Summit continues with a panel conversation led by @WHOSTP Director Droegemeier, @NIH’s Larry Tabak, @StateDept’s Marcia Bernicat, and @NSAGov’s Deborah Frincke on how federal agencies work on JCORE #USResearch priorities. pic.twitter.com/VxIakUwrOw
— White House OSTP (@WHOSTP) November 5, 2019
The U.S. intelligence community has warned in the past that China may be abusing the student visa program to plant spies in America’s research institutions. President Donald Trump has repeatedly referenced China’s theft of intellectual property as a key component of his trade war with the burgeoning global superpower. (RELATED: Trump Hits Back At China With 30% Tariffs On $250 Billion Of Chinese Goods)
Republican Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley introduced legislation in June that would prevent American scientists from using Chinese technologies for research projects, stating, “For too long, these countries have sent students to our universities to collect sensitive research that they can later use to develop capabilities that threaten our national security.” The legislation would also require Chinese nationals to undergo screening prior to being allowed to participate in science projects in the U.S.
For Droegemeier, one of the first steps in protecting American interests in research is enforcement of current policies and expectations.
“A lot of times when disclosures [of foreign funding] happened nobody ever looked at the information. So part of it is just looking at and also sort of spot-checking, auditing,” he told the Caller. “We have to make sure that we’re checking those things periodically and doing a deep-dive to make sure that they are disclosed, because it’s all self-disclosure. We’re just trusting they’re doing it.”