Yesterday, the House passed the National Defense Authorization Act, which included a key provision to protect federal research from foreign theft. The text of provision was pulled from H.R. 3038, the Securing American Science and Technology Act (SASTA), which was introduced by members of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee in May of 2019.
SASTA was the result of more than a year of investigation into the theft of proprietary technology and scientific discoveries from American universities. The legislative language promotes standardization of federal agency approaches to academic espionage while maintaining collaboration and a welcoming environment for foreign talent at our institutions of higher education.
“With federal funds, our universities conduct critical research that helps support American economic progress and national security,” Ranking Member Frank Lucas said. “We want to maintain the spirit of academic collaboration that drives innovation while also protecting valuable breakthrough discoveries. This legislation is the first step towards safeguarding American research from foreign espionage.”
“Academic espionage is a real threat we are experiencing at universities in Ohio and across the country,” said Congressman Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH), who sponsored SASTA. “I am thrilled to see my legislation included in the final version of the fiscal year 2020 NDAA to secure our cutting-edge research from nations we know are actively working to steal it, like China and Russia.”
“I’m glad to see the House is taking these threats from hostile foreign actors seriously,” said Congressman Michael Waltz (R-FL), a cosponsor of the legislation and a Member of both the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee and the House Armed Service Committee. “Our colleges and universities are at the forefront of cutting-edge research. Unfortunately, with innovation and advancement come the threat of espionage from countries like China, which is actively engaged in the wholesale theft of American intelligence and technology. This often begins at the university level. For the sake of our national security, it’s critical we protect our intellectual property from these types of predatory practices.”
SASTA requires the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to establish an interagency working group of science, intelligence, and security agencies under the existing authority granted to the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC). The group would evaluate existing mechanisms of control of federally funded research and develop a policy framework to address the security needs of agencies and federal grant recipients. SASTA also establishes a roundtable, convened by the National Academies, to facilitate an ongoing dialogue among federal science and security agencies and academia on these topics and to share best practices through public reports.