Portman Stresses Importance of Safeguarding American Innovation at USICA Conference Committee Meeting

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee delivered remarks today at the public meeting of the Conference Committee on the bipartisan U.S. Innovation and Competition Act. The 107-member Conference Committee is tasked with reconciling differences between the Senate’s United States Innovation and Competition Act (USICA) and the House’s America COMPETES Act, which will culminate in a conference report.  

Portman discussed his bipartisan Safeguarding American Innovation Act, which passed the Senate last year on a bipartisan basis as a part of the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act. Portman and Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), as Chairman and Ranking Member of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), led a year-long investigation that 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 innovation and Portman insisted in today’s meeting that the legislation be included in the conference report. 

A transcript of Portman’s opening remarks can be found below and a video can be found here. 

“Thank you Chair Cantwell, and thanks to you and Ranking Member Wicker for your leadership of the conference, I hope we can get this done. I agree with Chairman Peters on the importance, as an example, of the semi-conductor provisions here. If we don’t do this, these companies are going to go somewhere else and that’s what they’re telling us and unfortunately it’s been true over the years. We’re down to just 12 percent of the world’s manufacturing of semiconductors, and virtually none of the high-end ones. 

“I am also here to discuss some specific HSGAC provisions in USICA, specifically the Safeguarding American Innovation Act, which passed the Committee unanimously with the help of Chairman Peters and others and is part of USICA. It was voted on as part of the 68 votes we got for USICA. It’s a bipartisan compromise already with Senate Democrats and Republicans and the White House. 

“We got to remember that the goal of this overall effort, of course, is to improve our country’s competitiveness, especially with regard to China. To do that, we must not only invest in research and innovation, which I support, but we got to protect that tax-payer-funded research and intellectual property from being stolen by our competitors and used against us. Given the current realities, without such protections, I believe any conference report with significant increased levels of federal funding for research would be a huge giveaway to Beijing. 

“Recently, FBI Director Wray said, ‘The biggest threat we face as a country from a counterintelligence perspective is from the People’s Republic of China and especially the Chinese Communist Party…They are targeting our innovation, our trade secrets, our intellectual property, on a scale that’s unprecedented in history.’ 

“Senator Carper and I introduced the Safeguarding American Innovation Act and insisted it be included in the HSGAC title of USICA after a year-long PSI investigation that found how China has used so called talent programs to target promising taxpayer-funded research and researchers, and obtained valuable US intellectual property. We found American taxpayers have been unwittingly funding the rise of China’s military and economy over the past two decades while the federal government has done very little or nothing to stop it. 

“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. 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 State whether a foreign researcher will have access to export controlled technologies.  

“Again, a vital component of any competitiveness bill is this commonsense, extensively negotiated bipartisan bill which is already included in the homeland security title of the USICA. I urge this conference to stand by that Senate-approved language.”