(Washington, DC) - This week, House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland questioning the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) decision to offer an exceptionally low settlement amount to Stanford University after it violated the False Claims Act (FCA) by submitting proposals for federal research grants that failed to disclose foreign sources of support.

DOJ recently announced that Stanford University agreed to a $1.9 million settlement to resolve the allegations. Lucas raised concerns that the settlement is, “alarmingly low, far below the actual size of the grants and the triple damages that the False Claims Act would require if the case had come to completion.”

“According to publicly obtainable information, millions of dollars’ worth of taxpayer-funded grants were a part of this settlement,” Lucas wrote. “Stanford University received grants for which it may not have been eligible if it had properly disclosed the foreign funding received by its Principal Investigators (PIs) and co-PIs. These grants could have gone to other universities that complied with the law and safeguarded American taxpayer-funded research dollars. Instead of recovering all funds lost to fraud, DOJ settled with Stanford for far less than the value of the grants themselves.”

“It’s unclear why DOJ would agree to such a generous settlement that appears to be nothing more than a slap on the wrist for violating federal law and potentially exposing U.S. taxpayer-funded research to foreign actors including the Chinese Communist Party (CCP),” Lucas wrote.

Lucas noted current threats to U.S. research security, particularly from the CCP. “In recent years, several incidents have led to concerns that other countries are taking advantage of the openness of the academic research environment in the United States,” he wrote. “The CCP has proven to be a particularly bad actor as it pertains to research theft; utilizing several specifically designed programs to undermine what has historically been an open academic culture of sharing research information.”

Securing U.S. research from theft has been a high priority for the Science Committee, and Lucas raised concerns that DOJ’s settlement with Stanford undermines that work. “The low settlement amount sends a clear message, intentional or not, that DOJ is uninterested in holding universities accountable for research security,” he wrote. “Without consistent DOJ involvement on this matter important research and intellectual property will drain from our universities.”

The full letter is available here.