On Senate Floor, Portman Urges Colleagues to Include Bipartisan Safeguarding American Innovation Act 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, urged his colleagues to support his amendment to include 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 American taxpayer-funded investments in innovation and Portman called on his colleagues to support including it in the CHIPS Act package currently under consideration.

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

“Mr. President, I come to the Senate floor today to correct the record, really. Some of my colleagues in the chamber voted yesterday to begin consideration of this CHIPS package that we’ve talked about a lot because they believed that it included legislation called Safeguarding American Innovation Act, or SAIA, the bipartisan Senate passed and White House supported essential legislation to protect taxpayer-funded research and intellectual property from being taken, stolen by China and other adversaries and then used against us. It’s understandable people thought that because the SAIA research security provisions were in the broader USICA bill that passed the Senate last year. In fact, as the co-authors of USICA know, it was the reason I was one of the then original Republican co-sponsors of USICA, and only because of that. And at that time we needed Republican cosponsors. And it’s understandable because this week all Republican offices were emailed a list of items by the lead Republican on this bill, which included CHIPS Plus legislation including SAIA.

“So Republicans, when they voted yesterday, thought SAIA was part of it. Even today, Democrats and Republicans alike have come up to me and said they thought SAIA was in this bill and by the way, they want it in this bill, but it’s not. It was stripped out of this USICA. I filed an amendment to get it back into this package because it’s so crucial to the goal of the overall effort, which is of course, to improve our country’s competitiveness, especially with regard to China. To do that, we must not only invest in more American research and innovation, which I support, but we’ve got to protect that taxpayer-funded research and intellectual property from being stolen by our adversaries and used against us.

“Given the current realities, without such protections, I believe this CHIPS Plus bill, with significantly increased levels of federal funding for research, may well become a giveaway to Beijing. China has made no secret of its goal to supplant the United States as the global economic leader, and China has been willing to use every tool at its disposal to be able to do that. As FBI Director Christopher Wray has warned, and I quote, ‘The greatest long term threat to our nation’s information and intellectual property, to our economic vitality, is the counterintelligence and economic espionage threat from China.’ Director Wray has characterized China as the largest threat to, quote, ‘Our ideas, our innovation and our economic security.’ Noting that the FBI has opened 2,000 cases focused on China stealing our research, with one case being opened approximately every 12 hours.

“A number of us, in a totally bipartisan process, have been working on protecting research for the past four years. In 2019, an investigative report of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee of Homeland Security, which I chaired with Senator Carper as the Ranking Member, documented after a year-long investigation how China uses talent recruitment programs like the Thousand Talents Plan to target the science and technology sectors. Talent recruitment plans recruit high quality overseas talent, primarily from the United States, including academics, scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, even finance experts. The plans provide monetary benefits and other incentives to lure experts into providing proprietary information or research to China, which is in violation of our laws and in conflict of conflict of interest rules. China in turn exploits American research, intellectual property and open collaboration, often US taxpayer-funded, for its own economic and military gain at our expense.

“Really, if you think about it, the rise of China’s military and economy over the past couple of decades is in part being fueled by American taxpayer paid research, where they have essentially leapfrogged us and commercialized it more quickly than us and used it against us. In just one of many examples, a researcher recently in Kansas hit his full time employment with a Chinese research university to obtain federal grant funding from six different Department of Energy and National Science Foundation contracts. Remember, the new funding in this bill primarily goes to the National Science Foundation. In fact, the Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General recently released a report that found that two-thirds of the NIH grant recipients, another place a lot of research is done, NIH, failed to meet federal requirements regarding foreign financial interests, including instances of US funded researchers failing to disclose ties to the Chinese government.

“In fact, since our investigation and hearing, there have been at least 23 different researchers that have been arrested by federal authorities for research theft. In testimony before the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, John Brown, then Assistant Director of FBI’s Counterintelligence, said, quote ‘The Communist government of China has proven that it will use any means necessary to advance its interests at the expense of others, including the United States, and pursue its long term goal of being the world’s superpower by 2049. The Chinese government knows that economic strength and scientific innovation are the keys to global influence and military power. So Beijing aims to acquire our expertise to erode our competitive advantage and supplant the United States as a global superpower.’ Then US Cyber Command General Keith Alexander described intellectual property theft and cyber espionage in general as, quote, ‘The greatest transfer of wealth in history.’

“The sentiment was underscored by former National Security Advisor and retired Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster. When asked about China’s growing and intertwined military and economic threat, in a March 2021 Armed Services Committee hearing, Lieutenant General McMaster stressed the needs of the United States to defend itself. ‘It’s gut wrenching to see how much has been stolen right from under our noses, and much of that research is funded by Congress. I think the financial dimension of this is something worth a great deal of scrutiny. We are, in large measure underwriting our own demise.’ That’s why Senator Carper and I introduced the Safeguarding American Innovation Act and insisted it be included in the Homeland Security and Government Affairs title of USICA. And again, it was, and it passed. And it’s part of the research funding, the additional research funding, to have these protections around it, it would be necessary even if there was not additional research funding. But now we’re spending tens of billions of dollars of more taxpayer money and not providing this security.

“Based on feedback from the law enforcement research community, the legislation goes directly to the root of the problem. It makes it punishable by law to knowingly fail to disclose foreign funding on federal grant applications. FBI wants that badly. It requires the Executive Branch to streamline and coordinate grant making between the federal agencies, so there’s continuity, accountability, and coordination. It allows the State Department to deny visas to foreign researchers coming to the United States to exploit the openness of our research enterprise and requires research institutions and universities to do more, including telling the State Department whether a foreign researcher will have access to export controlled technologies. The State Department wants this badly. The career people at the State Department helped us write these provisions, they need this authority. They don’t have it now. 

“So a vital component of any competitiveness bill must be this common sense, noncontroversial, extensively negotiated, bipartisan bill. It’s a matter of our national security. I have described the extraordinary theft of taxpayer paid research under current funding levels. Again, it’s unthinkable that we would add tens of billions of more taxpayer dollars to sensitive research as we propose in the CHIPS Plus package, and not protect that research from China and other adversaries. I strongly urge my colleagues to support this amendment, to ensure that it is part again as it has been in the past, we’ve all voted for it, of the underlying package. I thank the President and yield back my time.”