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Press Release Published: Oct 31, 2023

Comer & Lucas Investigate National Science Foundation’s Research Security

WASHINGTON – House Committee on Oversight and Accountability Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) and House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) are investigating the integrity of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) research security after the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has determined that American universities and laboratories are susceptible to undisclosed and illegal transfers of information, technology, and intellectual property. In a letter to NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan, the Chairmen request documents and information from NSF about its efforts to protect national security and whether it is addressing identified vulnerabilities.

“American research institutions are the foundation of America’s thriving scientific enterprise,” wrote the Chairmen. “These institutions should study science in a transparent manner that encourages collaboration, attracts the top scientific minds to the United States, and fosters discoveries. However, a priority of any research security policy should be to prevent U.S. funded research from being stolen. We must do all we can to protect our innovation system and taxpayer-funded research from systematic attempts to exploit, degrade, and misappropriate our open system of science.”

In fiscal year 2022, NSF spent nearly $7 billion on research and education at two thousand colleges, universities, and other academic institutions. NSF recently designated threats posed by foreign talent recruitment programs as one of its current challenges, and reports indicate that these risks to U.S. national and economic security persist. Many of the reports published since 2018 by NSF’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) detail cases of foreign exploitation and influence. OIG’s latest semiannual report details how threats to the integrity of NSF funded research persist. Congress provided $8.8 billion to NSF for fiscal year 2022, which the agency used to fund 11,000 competitive awards. The CHIPS and Science Act also authorized $81 billion over a span of five years to NSF, doubling the size of the agency. Given this increase, it is important that the agency ensures that American taxpayer-funded research is protected against theft and exploitation by foreign interests.

Over the past four years, Congress has worked to address research security concerns and consistently strived to balance security risks and the importance of scientific openness and international collaboration. Recent legislation on research security includes consistent disclosure requirements and conflicts of interest statements, prohibitions on participation in malign foreign talent recruitment programs and other foreign talent programs, and annual training for researchers and grantees.

“The challenges facing the U.S. from foreign adversaries are increasing in intensity and complexity, and it is important that the policies of federal agencies adapt to novel threats,” continued the Chairmen. “Defending American research is essential to maintaining U.S. scientific competitiveness and safeguarding economic and national security. This will require proactive oversight and NSF should be an active participant with research institutions to protect American science. While NSF’s recent actions are encouraging, it is imperative that NSF continues to take appropriate actions and establish protocols to ensure research integrity.”

Read the letter to Director Panchanathan here.