On Senate Floor, Portman Urges Colleagues to Include Bipartisan Research Security Provisions in CHIPS Plus Package

WASHINGTON, DC – On the Senate floor, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, asked for unanimous consent from his colleagues to include his amendment of provisions from his bipartisan Safeguarding American Innovation Act, or SAIA, which passed the Senate last year on a bipartisan basis, as a part of the CHIPS Plus package currently under consideration. 

Portman and Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), as Chairman and Ranking Member of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), introduced the Safeguarding American Innovation Act after their bipartisan, year-long investigation revealed how American taxpayers have been unwittingly funding the rise of China’s military and economy over the last two decades while federal agencies have done little to stop it. Starting in the late 1990s through its “talent recruitment programs,” China began recruiting U.S.-based scientists and researchers to transfer U.S. taxpayer-funded IP for China’s military and economic gain. This legislation will ensure the federal government is taking decisive action to safeguard the $250 billion American taxpayer-funded investment in research and innovation in the CHIPS Plus Act package. 

Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, objected to Portman’s unanimous consent request and thus the amendment will not be included in the CHIPS Plus Act package. 

A transcript of his remarks can be found below and a video can be found here.

“Mr. President, I’m coming to the floor today to offer a very straightforward, common-sense amendment that is noncontroversial, that has met all the requirements set out by the Democratic leadership, by the Majority Leader, by the Chair of the Conference, by the Ranking Member of the Conference, to be accepted. This is language that must accompany the research dollars that are part of the CHIPS Plus legislation that we are considering right now. When you add it all up, when you add up CHIPS and the CHIPS Plus language, which includes research dollars to NSF, NIH, Department of Energy, and so on, we’re talking about over $200 billion of taxpayer money. And as part of this process, when we passed the underlying bill, USICA, here in the United States Senate, we included language that said, you know what, we ought to protect that language, we ought to protect that research. It’s like we’re buying a really expensive new car, and if we don’t protect it, it means we’re not buying the insurance that goes with it. And the insurance is needed for a very simple reason. We know that for the past two decades that US taxpayer-paid research, just like the research that we are about to both appropriate and authorize in this legislation, has been subject to being taken by our adversaries, particularly China. So that’s why we need to protect it. And we worked painstakingly over the last four years on a bipartisan basis to come up with this legislation. Again, it’s been fully vetted. 

“There was discussion a moment ago about the Four Corners. What does that mean? That means that the Chair and Ranking Members of the Committees of jurisdiction, the Four Corners, are asked to approve anything that goes into this legislation. Well, everything I’m going to talk about today is approved by the Four Corners. By the way, everything that’s in the underlying legislation, some of the plus in the CHIPS Plus Act has not gone through the Four Corners process. This has. And to my colleagues who say, ‘Well, if we put this amendment in, how about these other amendments?’ Look, I’ve got five or six things in the USICA bill I would love to have be part of this final agreement. I’ve got wonderful trade legislation that should be part of this. It’s not. That’s with Senator Brown, by the way. I’ve got wonderful legislation that deals with worker retraining, that is absolutely related to competitiveness, that’s with Senator Kaine, that should absolutely be part of this final agreement. It’s not. I get that because there are a lot of things that had to be left out when the conference did not succeed, even though I, like others, worked very hard to get that conference to come to an agreement, not just in my areas. I’m the Ranking Member on the Homeland Security Committee. We cleared all of ours, but also worked with other Committees and other members, Republican and Democrat alike. But, I said from the start, we have to have this research security language in place if we’re going to put out billions of dollars of new taxpayer dollars in terms of research. Otherwise, it is irresponsible. 

“So the amendment I’m offering today is a skinnied-down version of what passed in USICA already. It’s a skinnied-down version of what I was proposing because some people thought there were some concerns in the House, actually among Republicans interestingly, about some of these aspects. So we have just taken those out. We’ve made this totally noncontroversial, Four Corners, fits like a glove with what we are talking about, which is the new research dollars. That’s what this is all about. It should not be surprising that there’s a lot of bipartisan support for this. There has been from the start. Why? Because everybody knows this is a grave threat to our national security if we do not protect American research. The Director of the FBI, Christopher Wray recently warned, and I quote, ‘The greatest long-term threat to our nation’s information and intellectual property and to our economic vitality is the counterintelligence and economic espionage threat from China. It’s a threat to our economic security and by extension our national security.’ He characterized China as ‘the largest threat to our ideas, our innovation, and our economic security.’ He noted that the FBI now has over 2,000 open cases focused on China, with a new case being opened approximately every 12 hours. This is reality. This is what’s happening right now. 

“After our bipartisan investigation, we had a hearing, the FBI showed up and we said, you know what, we have learned in our investigation this shocking news that for two decades China has been systematically targeting the best American researchers and the best American research to be able to take that research and leapfrog us. And it’s helped to create an ascendant China, the rise of their military, and their economic progress by taking our research, taxpayer paid. And the FBI testifying said you know what, you’re right, we’ve kind of been asleep at the switch and we’re going to change that. And they have. And that’s why you’ve seen many, many arrests being made. But they said to us we need some legislation, we need a cause of action that actually fits what’s going on here because there’s not one now. We have to come up with other ways like mail fraud or tax evasion or other ways to bring people to justice. 

“That’s what this legislation does. We also heard from the State Department, and this was career people at the State Department, including now in the Biden State Department, they desperately want new authority to be able to avoid people coming into our country to steal our technology. They desperately want it. And that’s part of this legislation today. We found out that China uses these so-called talent recruitment programs - the most prominent one you’ve heard of probably is the Thousand Talents Plan - to target science and technology sectors just like the ones we are funding, just like the ones we are funding. They target academics, scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, and finance experts. The plans provide monetary benefits and other incentives to lure experts into providing proprietary information or research to China in violation of our laws and conflict of interest rules. Again, the cases go on and on. China in turn exploits American research, intellectual property, and open collaboration for their own benefit. Again often US taxpayer-funded. In just one of many, many cases, a chemist was sentenced recently by a federal judge in Tennessee after being convicted of conspiracy to commit trade secret theft, possession of stolen trade secrets, economic espionage, and wire fraud. The chemist received millions of dollars in Chinese government grants, including a Thousand Talent Plan award to steal American innovation to fund the rise of Chinese economy. 

“This is just one of the researchers we’ve been able to stop. Think of how many have slipped through the cracks since we have not yet implemented the grant and visa reforms included in this amendment I’m offering today. In fact, the Department of Health and Human Services IG recently released a report that found that more than two-thirds of the National Institute of Health grant recipients failed to meet the federal requirements regarding foreign financial interests, including instances of US taxpayer-funded researchers failing to disclose ties to the Chinese government. That’s NIH. We’re funding NIH through this. Some of this money is going to go to NIH, and yet we’re not providing the protection to keep this from happening. The skinnied-down version of the amendment today goes directly to the root of the problem. It’s the minimum we have to do. 

“First, the amendment makes it punishable by law to knowingly to fail to disclose foreign funding on federal grant applications. Researchers should not be able to lie to grant-making agencies about the money they receive from our adversaries. Pretty simple. Who could be against that? Second, it allows the State Department to deny visas to foreign researchers coming to the United States to exploit the openness of our research enterprise. Currently, the State Department can deny a visa to a foreign researcher they know who’s coming here to steal export-controlled technology. But what if that technology someone is coming to steal is not export controlled? How about artificial intelligence? How about quantum computing? Well, if you can believe it, in that case, the State Department’s hands are tied. Even though they know it’s happening. 

“This amendment gives the Biden State Department the authority they have sought from Congress to deny visas to those seeking to come to the United States expressly to steal our emerging technology. Sometimes they are members of the Chinese Communist Party, sometimes they’re members of the Chinese military. And yet they cannot stop them. As we know, there are more provisions in the full Safeguarding American Innovation Act. But again, after talking to my colleagues, I agreed to scale back the amendment. Doing so will ensure our research is protected and guarantees passage in the House. These provisions have reached Four Corners agreement in conference, as I said, and include additional changes beyond that made at the request of everybody who had any objection, including the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. We solved their issues. This skinny version of the Securing American Innovation Act is a significant concession, and I urge my colleagues to respect the fact that we spent years going through this and more recently, hours to deal with everybody’s issues, to meet them more than halfway. 

“I will remind that many of my colleagues in this chamber voted to begin consideration of the CHIPS package last week because they believed that this language was in the bipartisan proposal. I know that because Democrats and Republicans alike have come up to me and said that. ‘I thought your language was in there,’ they say. ‘Why wouldn’t we want to protect this research?’ They say. One reason they think it’s in there is because all Republican offices, at least, were told that it was in there. In fact, the email sent right after the vote late on Tuesday afternoon reiterated that these provisions were included. So the whip that we sent out, the whip information of what was in this legislation included Safeguarding American Innovation Act. That’s how we got the necessary Republican votes. Now, I support the underlying bill, and I have restrained myself and shown respect for the process by helping to get us to the point we are today. But my understanding was that people would work with me to ensure that we were able, if it was Four Corners, to be sure that, again, this insurance on this new car that we’re buying would be there. It fits like a glove. This is where the legislation must be included. If not, we find ourselves irresponsibly spending taxpayer dollars that are not protected. 

“We’re going to invest about $200 - $250 billion of hardworking American taxpayer dollars in research and innovation. Again, I support the underlying bill, but we’ve got to protect that intellectual property, that taxpayer-funded research, from being stolen by our competitors and used against us. Without these protections, I believe this legislative package with significant levels of federal funding is a giveaway to some of our adversaries, including Beijing. It’s not like there’s any secret out there. China has made no secret of its goal to supplant the United States as the global economic leader and to do it by getting the best research and the best researchers. 

“Today, we released a report on how China has also targeted the US Federal Reserve, in addition to our science and innovation. Our economic policy is in China’s crosshairs now, and this body cannot stand idly by and allow it to continue. We must act. And that means including, at a minimum, this skinnied version of the Safeguarding American Innovation Act provisions. Failure to do so will harm our national security and our economic strength in the face of an ascendant China. So to my colleagues, please do not block this very simple request. We’ve done everything right. We’ve gone through the process, bipartisan investigation, bipartisan hearings, bipartisan legislation, Four Corners agreements, working with everybody to address their concerns. And this is where this legislation must be. 

“Again, I have four or five other very important bills in USICA that I’m not asking for today, because they don’t fit perfectly with this new research money. But this does, and it has to be there. So I ask Unanimous Consent. That’s all I need. With Unanimous Consent, the Senate can do anything to include what everybody says they want, everybody says is important. I ask Unanimous Consent that it would be in order to call up my amendment, number 5158. I asked further that there will be 30 minutes of debate equally divided between the two leaders or their designees. Finally, upon the use of yielding back at that time, the Senate vote on adoption of my amendment with no intervening action or debate.” 

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