Washington Update

Inside (the Beltway) Scoop

By: Ellen Kuo
Thursday, October 14, 2021

Debt Ceiling, Appropriations, and Research Security Occupy Congress

After Congress approved a continuing resolution until December 3, 2021, it began taking steps to deal with the looming debt crisis. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) gave his support by providing a short-term opportunity to raise the debt ceiling until December 2021, which also  has to pass the House before reaching the president’s desk. Now attention can turn to attempting to pass two other bills—the Build Back Better Act in the House, which missed its expected deadline for consideration in September, and the Senate-passed bipartisan $1.1 trillion infrastructure plan.

Meanwhile, the fiscal year (FY) 2022 appropriations bills are also expected to be posted in mid-October in the Senate. No markups are expected for these bills, which are unlikely to receive support from Senate Republicans. FASEB will report on funding for the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health and whether there is funding provided for the White House proposed Advanced Research Agency Health (ARPA-H) that meets or exceeds the $3 billion in the House passed Labor, Health and Human Services, Education Appropriations bill. Within the Build Back Better Act, $3 billion was appropriated for FY 2022 for ARPA-H to remain available until expended. However, this amount is now being stripped from the legislation (read more about proposals for the agency in the White House released summary of its summer listening sessions).

The Senate’s agenda may also include consideration of a nominee to replace Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD, as director of NIH following the announcement that he will leave his position by the end of the year. FASEB issued a statement thanking Collins for his support of the scientific community during his long tenure as director. The White House indicated that President Biden expects to select Collins’ replacement prior to his departure but did not pinpoint a specific date.

Lastly, the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee’s Investigations  Subcommittee and Research and Technology Subcommittee held a joint hearing about balancing openness with security in the U.S. research enterprise. During the hearing, recommendations were made to the members on how to improve the system so that foreign governments are obstructed in their ability to boost their own research capabilities by exploiting America's openness.

Notable was the Chinese government sponsorship of numerous talent recruitment programs to recruit top talent. However, these programs often use coercive tactics that compel or incentivize U.S. researchers to be dishonest, maybe sometimes even commit grant fraud or steal intellectual property for the benefit of a foreign entity, according to   Haley Stevens (D-MI), chair of the Subcommittee on Research and Technology. Recommendations to address this issue ranged from the federal funding agency knowing whether a researcher applying for a grant is a member of a foreign government talent recruitment program to the need to have adequate resources to investigate potential violations rather than mistargeting innocent scientists.

According to one witness, Xiaoxing Xi, PhD, Professor at Temple University, the federal government mischarged him for passing sensitive U.S. company technology to China. The charges, however, were false. Instead, the emails that were used against him were about his own widely published research so the government dropped the case but his life was wrecked. He also gave several other examples of mistargeting of foreign-born scientists.

Xi said a policy that targets Chinese scientists and cracks down on openness in fundamental research does not protect America's research security. Instead, it harms U.S. competitiveness in innovation and makes us less attractive to talent around the world. Ultimately, it threatens the U.S. leadership in science and technology. According to Xi, targeting Chinese scientists has created an atmosphere of fear in the scientific community which includes scientists from other countries.