House Committee Releases Report to “Reset” Relationship with China; Recommendations on Research Funding, Research Security, and High Skilled Immigration Featured Prominently

Last month, the House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party, commonly referred to as the China Committee, released a bipartisan report aimed at resetting the, “economic and technological competition,” between the two countries. The report, titled “Reset, Prevent, Build: A Strategy to Win America’s Economic Competition with the Chinese Communist Party,” makes nearly 150 recommendations in a wide range of areas, including research funding, research security, and high skilled immigration.

The recommendations are organized into three pillars:

  • Pillar I: Reset the Terms of Our Economic Relationship with the PRC (People’s Republic of China)
  • Pillar II: Stem the Flow of U.S. Capital and Technology Fueling the PRC’s Military Modernization and Human Rights Abuses
  • Pillar III: Invest in Technological Leadership and Build Collective Economic Resilience in Concert with Allies

The third pillar is likely of most interest to the US research community; it is covered in pages 34 to 39 of the report. In fact, the first recommendation in that section is:

Fund the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institute of Standards of Technology (NIST), and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science…with a focus on peer-reviewed research.

Also contained in that set of the report’s recommendations are calls to ensure that the country remains the world leader in such fields as artificial intelligence, quantum sciences, and biotechnology, as well as several smaller issues for specific technologies (like small modular reactors and electric vehicles). As a specific example, another recommendation is to, “ensure the (US) is the first country to develop a quantum computer capable of breaking modern-day encryption tools and be a global leader in quantum research and technologies,” and would task the Departments of Defense and Energy, “to consider all the methods and means necessary to ensure the (US) wins the quantum race.”

The report also gets into the topic of research security (pages 33 and 34) and makes several recommendations to, “strengthen US research security and defend against malign talent recruitment.” The first recommendation in this section is to build on National Security Presidential Memorandum 33 (NSPM-33) by, “requiring all federal research funding applicants to disclose details about past, present, and pending relations and interest with foreign governments, foreign government controlled entities, or entities located in foreign adversary countries, in the past five years for themselves and any key member of their team.” Regular readers of the Policy Blog will recall that NSPM-33 is a presidential order released in the last days of the Trump Administration and directed federal research agencies to develop processes to assess and clear up potential conflict of interests/commitments of researchers who receive federal funds. That memorandum, and the guidance that federal agencies have released to implement it, have made clear that it is not meant to criminalize past, legal conduct by researchers. This recommendation by the China Committee to expand the requirements to cover the previous five years of a researcher’s work is concerning; however, if implemented, it could also handle a timeframe already covered by research agency rules and regulations.

The report makes further recommendations in this space, such as requiring US research institutions to, “obtain an export control license if they intend to use any export-controlled item that has a clear and distinct national security nexus,” when collaborating with any foreign adversary entity; and strengthen and enforce current rules for US universities to disclose and track gifts from foreign donors. Much of this has been covered in recent legislation, such as the Chips and Science Act.

The report also makes several recommendations in the area of high skilled immigration (pages 39 to 41), much with a focus of working with key allies for talent recruitment. For example, the report recommends establishing, “a work authorization program for foreign nationals,” from countries in key alliances (such as NATO and the Five Eyes (FVEY)), who have a background in, “critical and emerging technology.” In a different area, the report also recommends expanding visa security screening procedures to prevent foreign adversaries from exploiting the country’s open research system to, “illicitly acquire U.S. technology and technical knowledge.” And it is further recommended that, “the Office of the Director of National Intelligence should be required to participate in visa screening of high-risk researchers.”

While the China Committee does not have the power to introduce legislation, this report likely acts as a barometer of the temperature in Congress with how the United States should interact with China. We have been expecting the committee to get into the areas of research, research security, and related matters, and this report could be a sign that they plan to shift into these areas in the near future. It is also worth keeping in mind that this report will influence, to some extent, how federal agencies, particularly the research agencies, handle interactions with the Chinese state going forward. CRA will continue to monitor this ever-evolving situation, and the actions of this House Select Committee, to represent the computing research community in any policy discussions that could impact the computing research community.

House Committee Releases Report to “Reset” Relationship with China; Recommendations on Research Funding, Research Security, and High Skilled Immigration Featured Prominently